Little bug may cause big headaches

Monday, July 22, 2013
Holden Stortz scoops up firewood Saturday at Jay’s Firewood and Mulch near Perryville, Mo. Jay Stortz is transporting his wood out of Perry County, Mo., out of concern that a quarantine may be imposed because of the discovery of emerald ash borers. (Adam Vogler)

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- For the second time this year, a small creature is causing big concerns for Perry County.

Jay Stortz and his crew spent Friday and Saturday moving tons of firewood out of the county amid fears of an impending quarantine after a Missouri Department of Agriculture field agent found emerald ash borers in a Perryville park.

According to the department's website, the emerald ash borer is an Asian species of beetle whose larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, eventually killing them.

The beetle was discovered near Detroit in 2002 and made its way to Missouri by July 2008, the website states.

Ten Missouri counties -- including Bollinger County in Southeast Missouri -- are now under quarantine, a department spokeswoman said.

A truck loaded with firewood sits ready to move Saturday at Jay’s Firewood and Mulch near Perryville, Mo. Jay Stortz is transporting his wood out of Perry County out of concern that a quarantine may be imposed because of the discovery of Emerald Ash Borers. (Adam Vogler)

In an email message to the Southeast Missourian, Christine Tew of the Missouri Department of Agriculture said it is too early to tell whether Perry County will be quarantined, because the state's annual emerald ash borer survey still is underway.

"It would be premature to take action directly impacting our state's forestry and nursery products businesses based upon partial data," Tew wrote. "Any necessary decisions about the Missouri Department of Agriculture's quarantine for ash wood products in Bollinger, Carter, Clay, Iron, Madison, Reynolds, Shannon, Platte, Pulaski and Wayne counties, as well as any decisions about the possible expansion of Missouri's quarantines, will be addressed after the annual survey concludes this fall."

Stortz wasn't taking any chances. He and his crew at Jay's Firewood and Mulch in Perryville spent the latter part of last week moving inventory to Ste. Genevieve County.

"It's not far, but at least it's enough to buy me a little time," Stortz said.

The discovery of the invasive beetle comes as the county awaits a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the protection of the grotto sculpin, a cave-dwelling fish found only in Perry County.

Holden Stortz loads a trailer with firewood Saturday Jay’s Firewood and Mulch near Perryville, Mo. Jay Stortz is transporting his wood out of Perry County out of concern that a quarantine may be imposed because of the discovery of Emerald Ash Borers. (Adam Vogler)

If the area is classified as a critical habitat for the species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service economists have estimated the cost to protect it could run as high as $4 million during the next 18 years. The federal agency is expected to announce its decision in September.

Perry County District I Commissioner Patrick Heaps worries about the effect state and federal environmental regulations could have on the local economy.

"We're going to do all we can, but we're limited as to what we can do, and I hate it for the county, because we're dealing with two different things, and we certainly don't need to lose any revenue," he said.

If the state quarantines local ash products to stop the spread of the emerald ash borer, hundreds of firewood dealers could be forced out of business, said Scott Sattler, economic development director for Perry County.

"They're going to be the most impacted. Even though these bugs only attack ash trees, when you have firewood, all firewood's ... quarantined -- not just the ash," he said. "There's no way for enforcement agents to know if you have a piece of ash in there or not."

Sattler said the economic effect of a quarantine on heavily wooded Perry County could be millions of dollars.

A pile of firewood is all that remains Saturday of a lot that was filled at Jay’s Firewood and Mulch near Perryville, Mo. Jay Stortz is transporting his wood out of Perry County out of concern that a quarantine may be imposed because of the discovery of Emerald Ash Borers. (Adam Vogler)

"We're abundant with trees, so that is the livelihood for some of our small businesses," he said.

In turn, other businesses depend on firewood haulers, Heaps and Stortz said.

Stortz -- whose business employs five full-time and two to three part-time, seasonal workers -- said he spends $25,000 to $30,000 a year in Perry County just on maintenance and repairs for his seven trucks and three trailers. He also buys fuel from local gas stations and pays small engine repair shops to keep splitters and saws in good working order.

"It could be a domino effect on other aspects, too," Heaps said.

Stortz was skeptical about the effectiveness of basing quarantines on political boundaries.

"That's got to be an awfully smart bug if it's going to fly to the Perry County line and stop and turn around," he said.

A better solution might be to enact a statewide, rather than county-by-county, quarantine, Heaps said.

"If you had the whole state on quarantine ... you could still distribute wood throughout the state," he said.

That would help Stortz, who said almost all of his business comes from outside Perry County, with about 80 percent in the St. Louis area.

Besides being a revenue stream on its own, the firewood business helps line up customers for other products and services, such as mulch, landscaping and tree removal, Stortz said.

"While we're up there delivering firewood ... that's how we gain a lot of work for the spring and summer," he said. "It's not just a four-month or five-month deal on the firewood. It's going to hurt us the whole season, because we're not going to be able to find the customers."

epriddy@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

8321 Hwy. 51, Perryville, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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