Invasive beetles stir worries in County

Posted Feb. 18, 2009, at 10:18 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:01 a.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — Two species of invading beetles are causing some serious concern among federal officials and creating some headaches for St. John Valley residents looking to purchase firewood from Canada.

At a public forum to be held Friday night on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ban on importing firewood, two local legislators hope to shine some light on the issue and why the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorn beetle have forced the ban.

“Around election time in November, I was at Fraser [Paper] and found out how many people in Madawaska get their firewood out of Canada,” said state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “It really astonished me how many people this ban could affect.”

As it stands, all firewood imported from Canada must be heated to 71 degrees Celsius (159 degrees Fahrenheit) before it can enter the United States.

“Many of the smaller firewood operators don’t have the means to do this,” Jackson said. “It would make the cost of buying the wood prohibitive for a lot of people.”

Jackson said many homeowners in Madawaska turned to wood heat over the past year in the wake of rising oil prices.

“This could open up some demand for firewood on the U.S. side,” Jackson said. “But I’m just not sure the supply is there in the Madawaska area.”

The emerald ash borer was found in 2002 in Michigan and Ontario and infests North American ash species.

The larvae of the borer causes damage by tunneling just below the bark, disrupting the tree’s nutrient transport ability and eventually killing the tree.

According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Web site, emerald ash borers have been seen as far east as southwestern Quebec.

The Asian longhorn beetle is advancing from the south, having been discovered in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Officials fear the longhorn beetle could pose a bigger threat should it become well-established, and cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined.

The adult female longhorn beetle lays her eggs in the depressions of trees and the larvae feed on living tree tissue, emerging through exit holes in the spring to feed for several days on the tree’s exterior.

Since both the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorn beetle live inside the trees, they can be moved unknowingly in firewood, live trees or fallen timber.

“This has apparently been going on for some time,” state Rep. Ken Theriault, D-Madawaska, said. “The ban on importing firewood went into effect on Oct. 17, 2008, and what we want to do is educate people on this.”

He added that once the firewood is cut and split, it’s often difficult to identify the exact tree species or if it harbors any of the invasive beetles.

At Friday’s forum, slated for 7 p.m. at the Madawaska High School Library, Theriault and Jackson will be joined by representatives of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. 2nd District Rep. Michael Michaud, and officials with the USDA.

“We wanted to get information to those people who have concerns,” Jackson said. “We want to get everyone in the same room, hear what they have to say and go from there.”

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