Forest economy under quarantineIn Wisconsin, where emerald ash borer has been spreading quickly in southern counties, the metallic-green beetle has largely affected urban areas.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
In Wisconsin, where emerald ash borer has been spreading quickly in southern counties, the metallic-green beetle has largely affected urban areas.
But now, the state is facing a new challenge with the discovery last month the bug made its way to Superior.
That find placed the state’s largest county forest and its forest economy under quarantine.
About 278,000 acres of county forestland with an untold economic impact — largely located in southern and central Douglas County — is now subject to special regulations designed to slow the spread of the beetle that killed 20 million ash trees in Michigan alone.
“One of the main messages that I wanted to send ... was to let the regulatory folks, the folks down in Madison, know this quarantine is going to be much different than all the previous county quarantines (in Wisconsin) because of the industry,” said Jon Harris, Douglas County Forestry Department director.
Harris organized a meeting held Monday to bring together regulatory agencies and the people who work with or use Douglas County forest products.
About 100 people from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin packed into the Solon Springs Community Center on Monday to learn more about the potential impact emerald ash borer could have on Douglas County’s forest industry.
“The other counties, they didn’t have the forests we have, and for sure, didn’t have the industry we have,” Harris said.
The impact goes beyond the county’s ability to manage its forest, Harris said. It’s affecting the ability of people in the logging and milling industries to make a living, and adversely affecting the bottom line of companies that rely on Douglas County forest products, he said.
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection regulate wood products harvested and transported within the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates timber that crosses state lines.
Both are likely to have an impact with Douglas County’s quarantine.
While an actual amount of timber moving from Douglas County to Minnesota isn’t know, Harris said it is “significant.”
“We try to work as closely as we can with industry so that your needs are met as well as ours in protecting the resource,” said Christopher Deegan, plant protection section chief for DATCP.
Since its discovery near Detroit in 2002, the bug with a range of about a half-mile has spread to more than 20 states in the United States.
Much of that spread occurred before regulations were in place, said Becky Gray, forest health team leader with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She said while the beetle was detected in Michigan in 2002, it is believed the import from China was introduced in the United States as early as 1994.
Gray said it’s only been in the last five or six years that there has been any understanding of the problem and spread.
“We’re jumping in a little late in the game for restricting spread, but the spread we look at on those maps happened way before regulations were in place,” Gray said. “The regulations now do stand a chance of slowing emerald ash borer.”
In Wisconsin, emerald ash borer has been confirmed in 18 counties, and 20 counties are under quarantine because of the proximity of the beetle to the border. The invasive species first became evident in Wisconsin in 2008.
Deegan, who worked for the USDA in Indiana before coming to Wisconsin about a year ago, said the agencies have a good deal of experience in working with industry as the agencies try to address the impact the beetle can have on the ecology.
“Douglas County just came on board to the quarantine,” Deegan said. “It’s the newest addition. From an ecological standpoint, the reason Douglas County is so important to us is because it’s starting to impinge on where the ash resource is in Wisconsin.”
An estimated 700 million ash trees grow in Wisconsin. A significant portion of those trees are in north central Wisconsin and two counties in that zone — Brown and Douglas — are now both under quarantine.
While the first 19 counties quarantined in Wisconsin affected only about 14 percent of the ash trees in the state, Deegan said inclusion of Douglas County in the quarantine brings that to 19 percent of the ash tree resources affected now.
“The main reason we put a quarantine in place is to prevent human-assisted spread,” Deegan said.
With the regulations in place, he said the state has compliance agreements with people in the timber and related industries to try to prevent the spread and balance the economy against protecting the resource.
Regulations target movement of the insect.
Boundaries lack logic
Max Erickson of Erickson Logging questioned the need to place all of Douglas County under quarantine.
After all, there is no quarantine on counties closer to Superior than Douglas County’s managed forestlands.
“It’s 40 miles (from Superior) to southern Douglas County,” Erickson said. “You’re going to quarantine that whole county. St. Louis County is only four or five miles from where they found emerald ash borer and Carlton County is only 15 miles.”
Erickson said the boundaries for the quarantine don’t make sense.
In Minnesota, two of the four counties placed under quarantine for EAB since 2009 are adjacent to quarantined counties in Wisconsin. All four are in eastern Minnesota. There has been no confirmed find of the invasive species in Carlton or St. Louis counties in Minnesota.
Sappi Fine Papers in Cloquet acknowledges a significant amount of its wood product came from Douglas County before the quarantine, but halted the purchase of biomass from the Superior area since the discovery.
“Based on the history of EAB, based on the history of the program, the county level quarantine is the best balance that we have right now to contain the pest and still allow commerce to get its products out to market,” Deegan said.
While the beetle hasn’t been found in Douglas County forests outside Superior, experts say the problem has been in Superior for a few years.
Emerald ash borer is hard to detect and the detection of the beetle typically occurs 3-4 years after the beetle has arrived, Deegan said. He said the goal now is to buy time until better tools are available to deal with the invasive species.