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Arborists Dan Coffin, with Heartwood Tree and Landscape solutions of Mahomet, left, and Jeff Palmer, with Arborjet in Minnesota, treat Illinois’ largest green ash tree in Clinton, to protect it from the emerald ash borer, the invasive metallic green beetle that’s killed millions of trees across the Midwest. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Lori Ann Cooke-Neisler)

State’s largest ash tree treated to prevent emerald ash borer infestation

July 17, 2013 at 10:37 AM

The Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The nearly 90-foot-tall green ash tree growing in central Illinois is the largest of its kind in the state, and that makes it worth protecting, a forestry expert says.

An arborist on Monday treated the tree, located in Clinton, to protect it from the emerald ash borer, the invasive metallic-green beetle that's killed millions of trees across the Midwest.

The tree, the trunk of which measures slightly more than 83 inches around, is on the property of Kelly and Debby Howry.

Kelly Howry stands next to Illinois' largest green ash tree which is on his property in Clinton. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Lori Ann Cooke-Neisler)

"I love this tree," Kelly Howry told the Champaign News-Gazette on Monday, adding that he plans on doing whatever it takes to keep his tree. "It's meant a lot to our family over the years," said the father of three. "Our kids climbed that tree. People want to talk about it when they come over. It's part of our history."

University of Illinois forestry specialist Jay Hayek says green ash is one of the five species of ash that are native to Illinois, and the ash borer is a threat to them all. Hayek also keeps the Illinois Big Tree Register, the official list of the largest specimen of each type of tree found in the state.

"The research that we have now, they're all susceptible," he said. "I would say that green ash is very susceptible."

The ash borer is native to Asia and wasn't found in North America until 2002, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The ash borer's larvae kill trees by feeding on the inner bark. Ash borers have so far been found in at least 29 Illinois counties, mainly in northern and central Illinois.

A Massachusetts company, Arborjet, treated the tree for free after the family that owns the property contacted state officials looking for help, according to Jim Prendergast, who handles public relations for Arborjet.

"The chemistry is injected into the tree in sort of an IV method," Prendergast said.

Such treatments can be effective, but also expensive — $100 or more every two or three years per tree, depending on the type of treatment, said Warren Goetsch, the state Department of Agriculture's bureau chief of environmental programs.

"You're going to have to treat, in essence, forever, or as long as you want that tree to remain," Goetsch said. "But there are some instances, and I think this is an excellent example of one, where you do have a unique tree."

The city of Chicago is spending $46 a tree in a program intended to treat 35,000 ash trees this year at a cost of about $1.6 million. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said it would be far more expensive to cut down and replace trees at about $1,000 a tree.

Some reports put the green ash in Clinton's age at 150 years, but Hayek said it's almost impossible to know for sure. Green ash trees grow relatively fast, so it could be as young as 80 or 90 years old.

The tree has been considered the biggest of its kind in the state since 1988. Hayek visited it himself just about a month to get some updated measurements, he said.

But it could soon have a challenger.

"Actually I received a phone call this morning from a gentleman in Decatur who says his tree is larger," Hayek said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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