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State officials have issued a quarantine for 20 counties, including Shelby, regulating the transportation of firewood and ash tree products in an effort to stop the spread of the emerald ash borer.
The quarantine, announced last week by State Entomologist John Obrycki, “prohibits the movement of all firewood derived from hardwood species, ash nursery stock, green ash logs and any other materials that present a threat of the artificial spread of the emerald ash borer.”
The emerald ash borer has destroyed millions of ash trees in the upper Midwest, including most states surrounding Kentucky. The state had put out hundreds of the blue, triangle-shaped traps in an effort to monitor the spread of the borer, but the insect had not been positively identified in Kentucky until it was first confirmed in the Cedarmore area of Shelby County in May of this year. It has since been found in five other counties – Fayette, Franklin, Jefferson, Jessamine, and Kenton.
Counties under quarantine include those six counties plus surrounding counties where state officials fear the insect may be present or may easily spread: Boone, Bourbon, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Harrison, Henry, Oldham, Owen, Pendleton, Scott, Trimble and Woodford.
Ash tree products may be moved from quarantine areas into non-quarantine areas by permit only, said Carl Harper, senior nursery inspector with the state Entomologist Office.
Harper said state officials suspect the ash borer came into Kentucky via campers' firewood, and he acknowledged that it will be difficult to control the movement of firewood with a quarantine.
“It's very difficult to police,” Harper said. “What happens is they [campers] bring firewood in, and they don't burn it all. Then the insect escapes and finds another ash tree.”
Ash lumber can be moved as long as the bark and outer skin have been removed, Harper said, but he said ash is not a significant component of lumber sold from the state of Kentucky. Ash is most commonly used in the making of wooden baseball bats.
The ash is a significant part of the state's forest, however. The tree accounts for approximately 6 percent of the state's forested acres. A 2006 Forest Inventory and Analysis showed Kentucky had approximately 130 million white ash and 92 million green ash trees.
The same survey showed that Shelby County ranks 32nd in the state in the number of ash trees, with 3.1 million trees. But two surrounding counties rank at the top. Henry ranks first in the number of ash trees in the state with 6.8 million trees; Spencer ranks third with 6.2 million trees.
Ash trees are commonly planted in urban environments where their rapid growth supplies quick shade.
Snow Hill Nursery owner Melvin Moffett said his workers have already dug up the company's ash tree stock in anticipation of the difficulty of selling the trees for landscape purposes.
Cooperative Extension Agent for Horticulture Brett Reese said he has not found evidence of the emerald ash borer outside of the Cedarmore area, but he suspects it may be in other parts of the county.
“There are ash trees dying in other places, but unless you take a bucket truck and examine the tops of the trees it's hard to tell,” Reese said. “But we're getting a lot of calls.”
Reese said borer damage typically starts in the tops of trees and affects the lower branches three to four years after the onset of an attack. The insect has killed 90 percent or more of ash trees in areas where it has taken hold since it came to this country about 10 years ago, most likely harbored in wood pallets that came from China.
Homeowners can buy systemic insecticides that can protect ash trees from the borer but their cost make the products suitable for use only on valuable landscape trees.
Obrycki said the partial quarantine now in effect will likely become a full state quarantine in the next few years.
“The typical pattern in other states is that the feds come in after the insect has been found in other counties and quarantines the whole state,” Obrycki said.
But he acknowledged that the quarantine is only minimally effective because of the insect’s ability to move on its own and the difficulty of monitoring the movement of firewood.
“If the quarantine can slow down human assisted moves, maybe in two or three years we will have the tools we need to combat the insect,” Obrycki said.
Burn the firewood
Avoid being an unwitting participant in the spread of the emerald ash borer by being careful with firewood:
§ Buy firewood at your destination and only buy local firewood.
§ Ask questions about the firewood you buy: Where did it come from? Always buy local firewood.
§ When you do buy firewood at your destination, burn it all. Don't take it back home with you.