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Berkshire County Wood Products Industry Will See Changes Under Quarantine

Emerald Ash Borer
courtesy NYS DEC
Emerald Ash Borer

Due to the discovery of the invasive emerald ash borer in Dalton last summer, Berkshire County is now under strict orders to contain the movement of ash lumber and all hardwood firewood from outside of its borders.

Dicken Crane sells ash lumber from his Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton. He said that if the quarantine zone were not confined to Berkshire County only, he’d have an easier time getting his lumber or firewood processed, which often must be done in other parts of the state.

“The sawmills are not in Berkshire County but are in Hampden, and Hampshire, and Franklin County. And the kiln is in Worcester, all those would be in the quarantine area and the ash could move freely without a compliance agreement,” said Crane.

But Crane, who is also President of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, a group that represents landowners, foresters, and wood producers, agrees that the quarantine is necessary to prevent the movement of the insect because selling ash logs with an extra step in the process is better than selling no ash logs at all due to the damage the beetle could cause if it spreads.

Jeffery Hutchins, Executive Director of the Alliance, said that for the wood products industry to remain healthy, high grade timber must be sold, but firewood and low-grade timber plays a vital role.

“You need a market for low-grade forest products in order to grow high-quality forest products. We don’t have a lot of markets in Massachusetts for that low-grade material so firewood is very important,” said Hutchins.

Quarantined firewood can only sold to other areas under quarantine, and that leaves Berkshire County isolated. New York state recently updated its quarantine zones also to control the emerald ash borer, to include all counties abutting Berkshire County, but that won’t go into effect until May. Jeff Hutchins continues, “that quarantine won’t go into effect until May 1st. So we’ve got a two month window for Berkshire County, that quarantine is isolated, and isn’t connected to any other quarantines.”

But if a compliance agreement is obtained, then producers can get their wood products processed or sold in other areas. Since March 1st, Ken Gooch, Forest Health Program Manager at the State Department of Conservation and Recreation has been approving compliance agreements.

“The end mill has to have a compliance agreement, the trucking company…has to have a compliance agreement.  And the person in Berkshire County  that’s moving it out of the county has to have a compliance agreement,” Gooch said.

However, from May 1st to the end of September, the quarantine restricts the movement of any ash lumber from leaving the Berkshires.  

“The mitigation has to be done by May 1st. The movement and the sawing of the logs, and the chipping of the bark has to be done by May 1st,” said Gooch.

In the meantime, the Massachusetts Forest Alliance is working closely with the DCR to develop an aggressive public outreach campaign to alert residents of Berkshire County and other areas of Massachusetts about the real dangers of Emerald Ash borer, which is most commonly spread unknowingly in contaminated firewood.

“Just because the entire Berkshire County is quarantine, we still want to reduce of the spread of the ash borer within the quarantine. So we’re working on trying to develop some guidelines that wood producers and firewood processors can follow within the county to slow the spread throughout Berkshire County, and therefore try and eliminate the spread to the rest of the state,” Hutchins said.

And for landowners like Dicken Crane, now is not the time let the valuable ash tree, which can be made into products like flooring, and baseball bats, go to waste.

“So it’s a very valuable tree but once it’s dead it’s not…so you want to start harvesting it,” Crane said.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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