BOSTON — An invasive beetle that's destroyed millions of ash trees since it appeared in the U.S. a decade ago has been found in Massachusetts, where officials are plotting to contain its spread.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation said Wednesday that the emerald ash borer was detected in Dalton, in the Berkshires, on Aug. 31. The state confirmed the finding last week.
The green bug, originally from China, has now migrated to 18 states since it was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, leaving "economic havoc" behind in some, said DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert.
Lambert said a quarantine, which greatly restricts the movement of ash and all firewood out of a designated area, is among the likely steps to slow the beetle.
"We want to do everything we to limit the spread in Massachusetts," he said, noting the state's wood products industry is worth about $500 million annually.
Jeff Poirier, president of a sawmill in Chesterfield called Berkshire Hardwoods Inc., said the beetle's presence has long been rumored, but that doesn't lessen the blow of its official arrival.
The housing crunch has depressed demand for the wood he produces, and ash is about 15 percent of his business, he said. Poirier hopes any quarantine is statewide, rather than just local, so his customer base for ash won't shrink as severely. But it's a bad news either way, he said.
"One word: devastating," Poirier said. "It's going to hurt us a lot."
About 80 percent of the state's 45 million ash trees are found west of the Connecticut River, and ash trees make up about 4 percent of the state's forest, Lambert said. The hard, attractive wood is used for everything from flooring to baseball bats.
The tiny emerald ash borer is so small seven can fit on the head of a penny. It exclusively feeds on ash trees, with the larvae eating just beneath the bark while the adults feed on the leaves. Tiny D-shaped exit holes on a tree are a sign it was there.
When the beetle hits a tree, there's almost no saving it, said Ken Gooch, the state's forest health program director.
"Once it's infested, it's pretty much going to be a dead tree," he said.
The bug has been steadily spreading since hitting Michigan, often when people move firewood over state lines. In 2009, it was found in New York state. It popped up in Connecticut in July.
Though it has yet to reach the other New England states, it's inevitable that it will, said Patricia Douglass, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state plant health director for Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Massachusetts recently cut down thousands of trees to try to eradicate a different menace, the Asian longhorned beetle, when in hit central Massachusetts.
Douglass said no trees will be cut down to stop the emerald ash borer, because officials are using a strategy of containment, not eradication. With a foothold in 18 states, as far west as Kansas, it's too late for that, she said.
Instead, officials are aiming to slow the beetle's spread while the USDA works to introduce insects that prey on the bug. A similar strategy worked to contain gypsy moths, Douglass said.
"Eventually, we'll have a check on emerald ash borer," she said.
Douglass added the step isn't taken lightly. Scientists have to be sure, for instance, that the newly introduced bugs don't prey on native species.
"It'll take years," Douglass said.