State Department of Environmental Conservation officers, working with their cohorts from the state Dept. of Agriculture, recently descended on a Route 28 firewood dealer in Olive to confiscate and destroy 14 full cords of, cut and split ash firewood along with 64 as yet un-split ash logs that they said were infested with the emerald ash borer.
The on-site action occurred after both state agencies received a tip from a local resident, and used a chipper to destroy the wood on site.
The action was the first active implementation of a statewide ban on the moving of firewood spurred by fears of deadly mass infestations of Catskill forests, long known for their ash trees (once used to support a regional industry that provided the cores out of which Louisville Slugger baseball bats were made) by the beetle.
The Olive-based firewood producer and dealer had reportedly sold infected firewood that was then transported offsite. Officers from the two state agencies determined the infested ash firewood posed “a significant risk of spreading EAB to non-infested areas,” according to a subsequent press release. “The materials had to be destroyed.”
Emerald ash borers are a green insect native to Asia and Eastern Russia that was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, is and believed to have arrived there via untreated packing cases made of ash. The lifespan of the EAB ranges between one and two years, with the worst damage to their host trees taking place in the insects’ larval stage, when they feed on the conductive tissue of trees, which is what transfers the nutrients and water from roots to leaves. When this is disturbed, the tree begins to die. At the onset of winter, the larvae relocate to the bark of the tree. They hide out in the winter within a tree’s bark, compounding its feeding frenzy and the tree’s death spiral.
150 million trees infected
According to the DEC, there are estimated to be about 8 billion ash trees left in the United States, after approximately 150-200 million ash trees have already died from the invasion. The Emerald Ash Borer, which can fly up to half a mile, has spread to 22 states within the United States as well as Canada.
“If the infected materials were sold or transported off-site, it could have led to the further spread of this invasive species in the region,” the DEC press release further stated, noting how the Catskills are under an emerald ash borer quarantine as a means of trying to prevent infestation out of the lowlands of Ulster and Greene counties. The quarantine prohibits moving infested firewood or logs from the place where they were found.
Violators can be fined, although the press release did not indicate whether the Olive firewood dealer was fined.
“We are not naming the dealer at this time,” said a DEC spokesperson when asked who sold the tainted firewood.
Online, local residents have complained that they don’t know whose wood was infected, in case they bought some.