LITCHFIELD — The emerald ash borer, which was first reported in 2012, has decimated thousands of ash trees across New England and other parts of the country.

In Lichfield, Public Works Director and Tree Warden Raz Alexe is preparing members of his team to start cutting down trees affected by the insect that are in the public right of way. Alexe discussed his plan with the Board of Selectmen during a recent meeting.

“We have more than 1,200 ash trees affected by the ash borer,” Alexe said. “(Connecticut General Statute) Sect. 23-59 allows me to make safety calls on these trees.”

Section 23-59 gives a town tree warden authority to remove trees affected by fungus or insects and that are considered a nuisance or danger. Alexe sought and received approval from the board this week to begin removing trees this summer.

“I got advice from (town) attorney Mike Rybak on this, before bringing it to the board,” he said.

According to a story by columnist Robert Miller, published in the New Haven Register in March, in 1904, the chestnut blight arrived in North America from Asia. The fungal disease started killing one of the great trees in the woods, largely wiping them out by the 1940s. In 1928, the Dutch elm disease — from Asia, as well, despite its name — arrived. By the 1960s the state’s beautiful urban landscape, shaded by arching elms, was gone.

“Ironically, what used to be elms were replaced by the ash,” Claire Rutledge, an assistant agricultural scientist at the entomology department of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, said of the choices made in city landscaping, according to Miller’s report.

It’s unclear whether the ash will return to Connecticut in full, or like the chestnut and elm, hang on as a sort of invalid, stunted species. But because of increased global travel and commerce, there is an urgent awareness that the government, and private industry — growers, importers, shippers, inspectors, buyers — must increase their vigilance, lest a fourth forest plague arrive. Experts say these pests cost the U.S. economy $5 billion a year. But Gary Lovett, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., said the loss shouldn’t just be measured by economic measures. It should also be measured by the loss in biodiversity.

Selectman Tom Waterhouse said he spoke with Lewis Tree Service, a national company, which was doing tree trimming and removal in Northfield. Lewis Tree works for utility companies to trim tree limbs near power lines. “They said they’ll mark all the trees that need to come down, then notify the property owners and ask them if they want them taken down,’” he said. “So they’re not swooping in and taking your favorite tree down.

“We had a situation a few years ago where a 125-year-old tree was cut down, and it was done at the request of the property owner, but she didn’t have rights to the tree. There was nothing wrong with it —it was totally healthy.”

Selectman Jeff Zullo asked how the tree removal would be done. “So if you see a dead ash tree and it looks suspicious, or it’s potentially going to fall down, you can just go and take them down without notice?” he asked.

“We’ll knock on the door and tell them what we’re doing,” Alexe said. “Sometimes the property owner’s not home. But we go to a certain street at a time, and so we have the ability to skip a tree, and we don’t proceed until we tell the owner.”

A notice will also be put on the tree, Alexe said.

Connecticut Media Group