- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2018

RANDOLPH, Vt. (AP) - An invasive pest that has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America has been found in three more Vermont towns since it was first discovered in the state last month, Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said on Monday.

The emerald ash borer has been discovered in Barre, Groton and Plainfield, in addition to Orange, as state and federal officials continue to survey for the insect, Tebbetts said.

“We know in general we cannot slow the threat of this insect or eradicate it but we have to look at all different options,” he said.

Since the pest was first discovered in North America in 2002, it has decimated ash tree populations in more than 30 states.

In Vermont, ash trees make up about 5 percent of the state’s forests and are in demand from the forest product industry and important to the state’s forestry habitat, said Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, who sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday, seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture resources to fight the insect’s spread.

“This is a pest that can do enormous damage and is doing enormous damage around the country to our ash trees,” he said.

Welch also said he was asking for an increase in funding for the USDA’s program for tree and wood pests and would introduce legislation to give the USDA additional tools to fight the ash borer and other invasive species and create a new grant program to research how to protect native species.

The state is now trying to determine the scope of the infestation by surveying the state, before deciding what to do about it, such as implementing some sort of quarantine on moving infested wood, Tebbetts said.

The insect travels about 1 to 2 miles a year on its own so it is clear from other states that its spread is being helped by people moving firewood or diseased material, said Steve Sinclair, director of forests for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. He urged Vermonters not to move firewood and also advised ash tree owners not to panic and cut their trees.

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