New England

Expecting a Destructive Pest, Vt. City Makes Tree Plans

Burlington is planting trees ahead of the anticipated arrival of an invasive insect that kills ash trees.

Vermont's largest city is taking steps to reduce the expected impact from an invasive pest that threatens to kill many of Burlington's more than 1,200 ash trees that stand in public places.

The emerald ash borer has been slowly creeping across the country for years, so Burlington wants to be ready.

"They make for a beautiful community, but we're afraid we're going to lose them all," Lynne Lieb, a resident of Burlington's Strathmore neighborhood, said of the nearly 200 ash trees that line the streets of that section of the New North End.

The emerald ash borer's larvae feed on ash trees' inner bark layer, slowly killing them.

Already discovered in 35 states, including in portions of each New England state, the invasive insect has claimed tens of millions of trees nationwide.

Vermont first discovered the ash borer last year, and when Burlington learned the invasive insect was on its doorstep in the Champlain Valley, the city started planning.

"We're trying to get ahead of that, and trying to avoid a situation where when that comes through, it just has a devastating impact," said Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington.

Thursday, the city's arborist and mayor planted a maple tree in the Strathmore neighborhood, which has seen a busy streak of plantings in recent days.

"Once it's within 10-15 miles of you, you have to be acting," Burlington city arborist V.J. Comai said of the emerald ash borer. "It's going to be here, so the quicker we get on it and the longer time we have to get trees established here and get growth out of them — and be proactive and spread our costs over as many years as we can — that's our best approach."

The mayor said Burlington is on track to plant 360 trees this calendar year, more than doubling the number of trees planted in previous years.

The hope is the plantings — more than a dozen tree species — will take root in public spaces in the coming months and years, so by the time Burlington is forced to cut down its ashes, as Comai expects to one day have to do, the new growth will be established.

"It will be a much less traumatic experience, hopefully for the community," Lieb said of proactive thinking that should avoid a sudden loss of nearly 200 trees for her neighborhood.

Foresters say the public can help blunt the impact of the emerald ash borer by reporting sightings of the insect and by never traveling with firewood on camping trips. That's a prime way the bugs infect new areas.

To file a report or to learn more about the threat from the insect, click here. The website also has an educational toolkit aimed at empowering Vermonters to help make a difference.

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