Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE – A revision of quarantine classifications this week for eight Upper Peninsula counties affected by emerald ash borers -an exotic insect pest native to Asia- should benefit businesses, land management agencies and others in the region, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Michigan DARD remains committed to protecting the ash resource in the western U.P. from the artificial spread of emerald ash borers and this quarantine amendment simply allows us to focus our attention on that work,” Gina Alessandri, the DARD’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division director, said in a news release.

Emerald ash borers were thought to have arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes, which originated in Asia.

The pests were found in Ohio in 2003, northern Indiana in 2004, Maryland and northern Illinois in 2006 and western Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 2007. The wood-boring beetles were also established in Windsor, Ont. near Detroit.

Emerald ash borers were first discovered in Michigan near Detroit in 2002. The bugs were responsible for killing more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone and tens of millions more trees in Ohio and Indiana by 2008.

Adult beetles nibble on leaves of ash trees, causing little damage. But the larval (immature) stage of the beetles feed on the inner bark of the trees, disrupting the trees’ ability to transport water and nutrients.

Only ash trees are affected by the beetles.

Emerald ash borers are moved from place to place in firewood or nursery stock, pallets and wood chips.

Over the past decade, the spread of the insects has brought emerald ash borers to all 68 counties in the Lower Peninsula. In 2007, an emerald ash borer was found at a camp near Moran in Mackinac County. There was also a prior occurrence in Chippewa County.

To try to stop the further spread of the ash borers into the western Upper Peninsula and elsewhere, state officials have restricted the transport of regulated items including the insects themselves, ash trees, limbs or branches, stumps, ash logs or lumber with bark, hardwood wood chips and bark chips measuring larger than one inch in two dimensions or hardwood species of firewood out of quarantined areas.

Previously, traps were set out to survey the spread of the ash borers across Michigan and other parts of the country. In 2008, 60,000 purple corrugated prism traps were baited and set out across 47 states to delineate the advance of the insects.

But due to budget constraints, six contiguous quarantined counties in the eastern U.P. and Houghton and Keweenaw counties, have not been surveyed significantly since 2009.

By 2011, portions of Houghton, Alger, Delta, Schoolcraft, Mackinac and Chippewa counties were designated as quarantined Level II areas – various townships where the insects had been detected.

In addition, Keweenaw County, including Isle Royale National Park, was also designated as a Level II quarantine area. Federal rules dictated that once an ash borer was found in a county, the entire county had to be quarantined on some level, DARD officials said.

Therefore, the remaining parts of those counties where ash borers were found, and Luce County -which never had detected ash borers, but was contiguous to other counties which had- were designated as Level III quarantine areas.

That designation restricted movement of regulated items from Level II areas into Level III areas without a compliance agreement granted by the state.

John Bedford, a pest response program specialist with the DARD in Lansing, said without recent adequate surveys, the agency could not defend having the Level III boundaries in place.

The department’s order this week -which does not quarantine any new counties or areas- merged all of the Level II and Level III areas in the U.P. into Level II quarantine areas, encompassing all eight of the U.P. counties previously affected by quarantine restrictions.

“Without those boundaries in place, it’s going to make things a lot easier for people,” Bedford said.

Timber companies, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service are among the entities expected to benefit from the new designations.

Marquette, Menominee, Dickinson, Iron, Baraga, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties remain without detections of the ash borers and are not currently quarantined areas.

“Although travelers and residents are now able to freely move firewood within the eastern U.P. and within Houghton and Keweenaw counties, we are urging them not to do so as there are several other invasive forest pests that can hitch a ride on it,” Alessandri said. “Please continue to use only local sources of firewood, burn all you buy, and don’t take any unused firewood back home or to the next location.”

A ban on moving firewood north across the Mackinac Bridge remains in effect.

Regulated articles cannot be moved out of the Level II areas without a compliance agreement, except in the eastern U.P., where items may be moved south to the Lower Peninsula, which is designated a Level I quarantine area.

State officials said compliance agreements are typically used by the forest products industry, which can meet approved wood treatment requirements.

Sale or movement of all nursery stock into or out of Michigan remains prohibited.

Individuals or businesses found violating the state’s quarantine are subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $250,000 and jail time of up to five years.

For more information about emerald ash borers or the quarantine, visit: www.michigan.gov/eab.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net