PROSPECT — There’s not too much Connecticut can do to push back against the arrival of an exotic beetle that has already killed millions of ash trees in other states.
Or not much that it can afford to do.
“There are no funds at the federal or state level for actual interventions,” state entomologist Kirby Stafford said last week. “There will be no cutting down of host trees to grind them up.”
At least not by the state. Municipalities in other states have taken measures to inoculate their trees against the ravaging emerald ash borer.
The tiny invasive beetle was found in Prospect, Beacon Falls, Naugatuck and Bethany this summer. For now, the state is relying on a quarantine, curtailing the sale or transport of ash trees and logs out of New Haven County. As the beetle is found in other counties, the quarantine will be extended.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon consider releasing one or more varieties of small parasitic wasps against the beetle. These insects lay eggs within the beetle early in its life cycle. USDA tests have found the wasps to be no significant threat to species other than the ash borer. And they do not sting humans. Stafford said federal and state entomologists will begin discussions in September to determine if a release makes sense for Connecticut.
Thirteen of 16 other states affected by the beetle have released the non-native wasps, Stafford said.
Much will depend on whether the wasp species used to combat emerald ash borer are able to survive, including whether the infestation is big enough to support a population of parasitic wasps, Stafford said.
There are also several varieties of insecticide that have yielded some success.
On Aug. 29, 10 landscapers and professional arborists met with representatives of ARBORjet, a company that sells an insecticide that can be injected into trees.
Rob Gordon, an ARBORjet representative, told the small crowd at Waterbury’s Hampton Inn that his product has the best success among the commercially available treatments. It’s injected into trees once every two to three years, poisoning beetle larvae crawling through the wood and adults munching on ash leaves.
Gordon’s presentation included scenes of devastation in New York, Michigan and other states — streets with rows of dead trees and a car crushed by a fallen tree limb.
“It kills every single tree it gets its hands on,” Gordon said.
The beetle has killed about 60 million trees since arriving in the United States, likely in Detroit, in the early 1990s, according to a publication by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. It’s believed to have come in wooden packing materials from China.
Gordon argues it makes much more sense, fiscal and otherwise, to treat rather than remove a tree. Trees can be treated even after beetle attacks start to show damage. The average streetside tree of 17 inches in diameter costs $59 to inject with ARBORjet’s solution, or about $23.60 per year with injections or infusions every 2.5 years. It costs on average $750 to $1,000 to remove and replace a streetside tree, Gordon said.
“People say, ‘We don’t have the money to treat our trees,’ and I will say ‘Do you have the money to replace them?'” Gordon said.
Ash trees make up about 3 to 4 percent of Connecticut’s trees, Stafford said.
In Waterbury, city horticulturalist Mark Lombardo said the city doesn’t have many ash trees. There might be one or two on the edge of a park, or the odd one along a street, but they’re not found in great rows, he said.
In Prospect, one of the towns were the ash borer was first found, Mayor Robert Chatfield is taking no chances. The town has cut down six ash trees already.
“It’s a concern to me because we had an unfortunate incident years ago when a tree on state property fell and killed a woman,” Chatfield said. “Keeping in mind what happened last October and last August, when these things kill the trees, it will be a big concern for every mayor, every town manager and every first selectmen in the state because it will cause problems along our roads and in our parks.”