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City of Rockford employee Brian Jacobi cuts down an ash tree Wednesday, April 11, 2012, on Johnston Avenue in Rockford. Photo by Amy Correnti/Rockford Register-Star.

Ash trees coming down to combat emerald ash borer

April 17, 2012 at 08:08 AM

Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — If you start noticing a bunch of trees getting chopped down and hauled away in the coming weeks, you won’t be alone.

The city’s plan to remove about 7,000 ash trees from rights of way has kicked into high gear in recent weeks and will continue throughout the summer. About 1,000 ash trees will be spared and will get their first of many pesticide injections starting in May.

While treatment will be an ongoing and costly responsibility at about $20,000 a year for the life of the trees, removal is expected to cost about $4.5 million. Replacement could cost as much as $2.5 million, depending on how many new trees are planted. All of this will take place in the next five to seven years.

City leaders think they have about that much time before all of Rockford’s ash trees succumb to the deadly emerald ash borer, which was detected in Winnebago County in 2010.

When that happens, about 11 percent of the city’s tree canopy likely will pose a hazard to public safety, threatening roadways, utility lines and structures like homes or garages.

Rather than wait until being faced with thousands of dead trees, city forester Mark Stockman said, the city is taking a very systematic and well-planned approach that will reduce the number of trees that will break on their own and potentially cause damage while taking steps to reforest the Forest City.

“If we wait too long to address this, we will have too many dead trees that we’ll have to take down all at once with not enough money to do it,” Stockman said. “We’ve been talking about this and planning for it for four years. I think we have a good handle on it.”

Dying or going to die

The city is going to ramp up public awareness in the coming months as well.

Stockman, the city’s superintendent of streets and transportation, has spoken to a handful of neighborhood groups already and plans to do more this spring and summer.

He already gave one presentation to the City Council last year and plans to do another along with members of Klehm Arboretum’s Community Tree Advocate program next month.
It will focus on educating the public on what the city is doing and helping residents understand the severity of the situation.

“When a maple or an oak dies, it can stand there and be strong for a long time,” Stockman said. “Ash is not like that. When ash dies, you know. It becomes very brittle and breaks easily. That can be a very dangerous situation in a storm or in high winds.”

Once a tree in an area is infested with emerald ash borer beetle larvae, many more around it are assumed to be infested, which is why the Illinois Department of Agriculture has issued quarantines on ash wood in counties where the beetle has been detected.

Infestation without treatment is a death sentence. The beetle has killed more than 25 million ash trees across the country since 2002.

For every ash tree on city property, which includes the rights of way along streets, leaders estimate that there are three more on private property.

They, too, are dying or going to die, Stockman said.

Stockman is urging ash owners to speak with local tree removal companies that have certified arborists on staff and start getting advice on what to do.

Echoes of Dutch elm

Mayor Larry Morrissey told aldermen this week that his office already is starting to get calls about tree removal, and he expects them to escalate.

The city learned a lot from its preparation for the emerald ash beetle infestation, Morrissey said, and perhaps most importantly learned that planting trees just for the sake of planting them isn’t a good idea.

While the city’s forefathers did much work to replace the elm trees that were wiped out by Dutch elm disease in the 1960s, they chose ash as a primary replacement and planted some of them in clusters, along entire blocks.

Just as Dutch elm disease had a dramatic effect on the tree canopy in certain areas of the city, so will the removal of infested ash trees, Morrissey said.

“One of the lessons we’re learning is to be careful about how many of the same species you plant in a given area because of the impact of unforeseen future pests like the ash borer,” he said. “Just like with Dutch elm disease, there might be whole blocks where every tree is taken down.”

Stockman said those areas would get priority when it comes to planting replacement trees.

‘Quite a bit’

One of those areas will be Ald. Nancy Johnson’s 8th Ward where 14 percent of the city’s 3,538 trees are ash. Many of them are 18 inches in diameter, too, Johnson said, which is considered too large for treatment.

“I don’t see it being every tree on a whole block, but it will be quite a bit,” Johnson said about the impending removal process.

Other wards that have higher percentages of ash trees include 3, 9, 10, 11 and 12 — many of the city’s older neighborhoods.

Johnson hopes to see local tree companies step forward with deals for homeowners who find themselves needing to remove ash trees but without the means.

“That would mean a lot. What we don’t want is these mature trees becoming dangerous. The city is removing the city’s trees. Residents are going to need to take care of their own.”

Reach staff writer Corina Curry at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 815-987-1371.

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