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A tree quarantine that started in Fairfax County has spread to 13 localities in the past few months.

Fairfax County became the first Virginia locality to be issued a quarantine order on ash trees in 2004 after infestations of the Emerald Ash Borer, a tree-killing insect, were discovered here. The borers were first discovered in the U.S. in Michigan’s ash trees in 2002. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued the quarantine.

However, 13 jurisdictions have been added to the quarantine in recent months, with six added earlier this week.

“In [2004] you all were quarantined after they were found in trees at an elementary school. Those trees were from a nursery in Michigan,” Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm said. “[Fairfax was] the first, but certainly not the last.”

Virginia jurisdictions with the quarantine on ash trees are restricted from moving or selling ash trees or ash tree products — such as firewood — outside of their boundaries.

The Emerald Ash Borer is a metallic green insect, about one-half inch long. Adult females deposit eggs on ash tree bark and the larvae chew their way into the soft layers of wood beneath the bark, killing the tree, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The borers are a costly problem for the state, which is estimated to have about 187 million ash trees, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry.

“They are a real pest,” Lidholm said. “They are hard to eradicate because the trees don’t really show symptoms until it’s too late.”

Trees found to be infested with the beetles often are cutdown and burned, she said.

Nationwide, the pest has been reported in 14 states and is estimated to have destroyed more than 10 million trees.

“Ash is best-known for baseball bats,” said Department of Forestry spokesman John Campbell. “It’s also used in cabinets, flooring … wood pallets.”

The value of saw timber from ash trees is estimated at $170 million in Virginia alone. While the trees are more populous in the western part of the state, officials say ash trees in urban areas can be a costly problem too, if infested by emerald ash borers.

“There are a lot of street-side trees that are ash trees,” Campbell said. These trees can cost $1,000 or more to remove. If they are compromised by emerald ash borers, they also could fall on to cars or homes.

On June 22, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr issued an order expanding the Emerald Ash Borer quarantine to include Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties and the City of Daneville.

“The Emerald Ash Borer is a serious threat to ash trees in Virginia,” Lohr said. “VDACS and our partners are doing everything we can to limit the spread within Virginia and to surrounding states. I urge Virginias to keep EAB from spreading by not moving firewood and other regulated articles out of the quarantine area.”

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com