Photo by Dr. Victoria Smith
Damage from the Emerald Ash Borer (Photo by Dr. Victoria Smith)

HARTFORD, CT — The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said it is calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials to devote resources to helping towns remove thousands of trees damaged by insects over the last few years.

CCM said the widespread infestations of gypsy moths and emerald ash borer beetles have led to forestry management issues the smaller towns in the heavily wooded portions of the state simply don’t have the resources to address.

In a letter sent to Lamont on Wednesday, CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong said cities and towns need help from the state to remove dead and dying trees, which are a public safety hazard because of the damage they cause when they fall.

“This [insect infestation problem] has destroyed large swaths of trees throughout the state over the last few years and is beginning to overwhelm the public works and public safety resources and budgetary capacity of many communities,” DeLong wrote.

CCM is asking Lamont and state agencies to form a work group to collaboratively make a plan to address tree damage, provide more funding to towns for tree removal, expand infestation grant program eligibility, and remove regulatory barriers for towns seeking permits to burn tree debris.

DeLong said those four requests came after recent discussions with staff from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Governor Lamont’s office and DEEP have been in touch with various state agencies and CCM on a multi-pronged effort to address the effects of the ash tree infestation over the last several weeks,” Lamont spokesman Max Reiss said in a statement. “These efforts range from the planting of new trees, removal of those that have been devastated, and collaborative approaches. The governor will continue this ongoing dialogue with CCM and local leaders to help alleviate the terrible effects of this parasite.”

Cities and towns have seen huge costs associated with tree removal, DeLong said. He described a “scramble” statewide to get to the needed tree work before winter.

“The first significant snowfall this fall or winter in Connecticut could bring down hundreds of diseased trees and thousands of limbs along with extended networks of power lines perhaps worse than the state experienced” in previous storms like Tropical Storm Irene, the October 2011 Nor’ester, and Super Storm Sandy in 2012, DeLong said.

Where the costs to remove trees are piling up, less funding is available for other crucial projects like road work, CCM said. In a list of compiled costs to towns removing damaged and dead trees, CCM pointed to about 30 that have seen costs rise significantly.

Middlebury has allocated $230,000 for tree removal and still has $230,000 more in work to be funded. A handful of towns have allocated or spent more than $100,000 on damaged tree removal, including Brooklyn, South Windsor, Columbia, Marlborough, and Madison.

Eversource said its contractors trim and remove trees six days a week in good weather, and that 19,000 diseased or dead trees will be removed in 2019.

“Our year-round work to trim trees away from powerlines and to remove hazardous trees throughout Connecticut is more critical than ever because of the lasting effects of the drought combined with consecutive infestations by the gypsy moth and the emerald ash borer,” Eversource Vegetation Management Manager Alan Carey said in a statement in July. “In my travels around the state, I’ve seen the high tree mortality rate first hand. There are tens of thousands of dying or dead trees from the western side of the state to the eastern border that are weak and pose a real threat to the electric system.”

The utility said it received funding earlier this year from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority for expanded tree work because of the extensive insect and drought damage.

“We have trees throughout the state that have been around for 100 years that are dying at rates higher than ever before,” Eversource Arborist Susan Stotts said in an announcement about the company’s tree removal work. “When we’re out surveying, we look for trees with no or sparse foliage or large dead branches over the electric wires. Now we’re able to remove a lot more of those hazardous trees.”

In the same announcement, UConn Extension Educator Thomas Worthley said he has seen high tree mortality in the southern portion of the state.

“The massive amount of large, standing, dead trees throughout the area presents what could be described as a slow-moving environmental disaster,” said Worthley. “The number of dead trees that have the potential to affect roadways and power lines is beyond the current capacity of property owners and many town budgets to address.”