State forest experts say a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch will help stop the spread of invasive species in Vermont, and other afflicted regions.

On Thursday, Welch, D-Vt., announced that he has introduced H.R.3244, the “Invasive Species Prevention and Forest Restoration Act.” Among other things, it makes funding available for rapid, early responses to invasive species infestations, and for efforts to help forests recover.

Barbara Schultz, forest health program manager for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, said in a Friday interview the bill, if passed, will be a great help in stopping the spread of invasive species, and in researching ways of helping afflicted forests recover.

“I think this will help us, not just locally, but people in other regions,” she said.

One thing the bill would do is expand the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s ability to tap into emergency funds, and to broaden the types of activities these funds can be used for.

The bill in its current form can be viewed online here: bit.ly/WelchBill.

Schultz said early response is crucial to stopping the spread of an invasive species.

“When they show up is when you have to respond to them,” she said.

Early intervention efforts were successful at stopping the Asian long-horned beetle in certain areas where it was reported, Schultz said. The same can’t be said for the emerald ash borer.

“It didn’t work for the emerald ash borer, but it will for other species,” she said.

An emerald ash borer is a beetle from Asia found in the United States as far back as 2002. According to Welch’s office, it’s killed millions of ash trees in 35 states so far. It was found in Vermont in Orange County in February 2018 and has since been reported in Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Orange, Washington and Windham counties.

Reports of suspected ash borers can be made online at bit.ly/0615Invasives. The site has photos to help people identify the borers from other creatures and allows photos of suspected ash borers to be submitted.

Schultz said Friday she’s had unconfirmed reports from various places, but for a sighting to be confirmed the state needs to see the actual organism.

In announcing the bill, Welch called out the emerald ash borer specifically.

“The emerald ash borer is devastating to forests, which are a central part of our economy, our heritage and our way of life,” Welch said. “This initiative will fund efforts to revitalize damaged forests and more swiftly stem future infestations of invasive pests in Vermont and across the country.”

Schultz said there are several tree species threatened in the United States by invasive pests, and this bill goes beyond the emerald ash borer.

According to the bill itself, it makes grants available to institutions studying ways to make trees more resilient against pests.

Welch’s spokesman, Lincoln Peek, said Friday the bill has been sent to the House Committee on Agriculture.

“As the emerald ash borer is already in Vermont, this bill focuses on restoring our forests after they have been damaged and containing future infestations,” Peek said. “Peter has heard a lot from the Vermont forestry community about the threat and damage from invasive species. The bill is supported by the Vermont Woodlands Association and the Center for Invasive Species prevention.”

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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