By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that has destroyed millions of trees in North America since being accidentally introduced from Asia, has been identified in Massachusetts for the first time, state officials said on Wednesday.
The beetle, named for its bright green color, was found in Dalton, a town in Berkshire County in western Massachusetts.
Massachusetts authorities said they are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to limit the pests' impact on the state's trees and its wood product industry.
"The emerald ash borer brings a very serious threat to our ash trees, and we are not taking its presence lightly," said Ed Lambert, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The tiny flying beetles are about a half-inch long. They kill quickly - within a few years - when the beetles' larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the trees' ability to take in water and nutrients.
The borers are thought to have been introduced to North America in the 1990s, probably in wood packaging material from eastern Asia, and were first discovered in Michigan and in Ontario in 2002.
They have destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in the United States and Canada since then.
Massachusetts is the 18th U.S. state to confirm sightings of the beetles.
Steps being taken by the state include defining a quarantine area to limit the movement of certain wood products, and working with stakeholders to ensure the proper treatment or disposal of infested trees and materials.
Many infestations have started when people moved infested trees, including firewood, into uninfested areas.
Ash is a main component of the Northern Hardwood forest in Massachusetts and a common street tree in the Boston area.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently granted Massachusetts $1 million to plant trees in areas that are fighting an infestation of the Asian longhorned beetle, another invasive insect that attacks and kills a variety of tree species.
(Reporting By Ros Krasny)