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Local News

Municipalities plan for life after ash trees

Towns look for ways to refill the landscape after beetle infestation

Residents in Will County are seeing massive changes in their municipal treescapes as villages and cities compete for the best ways to remove and replace ash trees infested with the emerald ash borer beetle.

The beetle has spread to most communities in Will County. And while each municipality is different in its approach to the ash infestation problem, they will all be vying for the best trees from local and out-of-area nurseries.

Long-term programs

The area in the county with the most ash trees by far is Joliet, city Arborist Jim Teiber said.

“We were very proactive when the emerald ash borer was first discovered in Illinois,” Teiber said. “We took some of the bigger trees down at that time because of interference with the surrounding structure as well.”

Because there are so many ash trees – 10,000 to 15,000 in Teiber’s estimation – there hasn’t yet been a full inventory or a defined multi-year plan to attack the infestation problem. However, Teiber said talks have been brewing in City Hall about the need for a long-term program. And one may come across a City Council agenda soon.

Joliet residents can expect a couple thousand of ash trees to be replaced with a variety of trees in the next five to seven years.

“We’re trying to find funding for replacement,” Teiber said. “We want to use low-interest loans to get them replaced as soon as we can.”

Lockport may be shifting funds from sidewalk improvement programs to help pay for tree removal and replacement. But it is already spending $150,000 this year for the process.

“We’re lucky we’re not like Joliet,” Public Works Director Joe Findlay said. “We only have about 2,300 ash trees.”

Ironically, Findlay credits the low number of ash trees to the slower residential growth of Lockport compared to other municipalities during the past 20 years. But Findlay said the city will continue to slowly and safely chop away at the ash trees for the next six years.

Like Lockport and Joliet, Plainfield won’t replace all of the 5,322 ash trees that will have fallen from 2010 to the end of 2016. But the village’s public works department has quantified the amount of time, labor and money it will take to remove and replace ash trees.

“We anticipate that the board will continue to budget money and continue to replace trees,” Director of Public Works Allen Persons said.

Within the next two years all parkway ash trees owned by the village will be gone. The replacement process with a variety of maple, elm, Kentucky coffee bean and hackberry tree species is estimated to be completed in five years.

Tree-tment

Shorewood will replace fallen ash trees with a variety of 13 trees. It had 2,400 ash trees and just started its removal and replacement program. But unlike other municipalities it is choosing to treat some bigger ash trees instead of contracting to take them down.

The village is using an ash borer treatment called Tree-age, an emamectin benzoate pesticide that is injected into the base of the tree and kills off larvae that feed on the tree’s vascular system. 

“The hope is that the Tree-age should work on the larger trees bigger than six inches in diameter,” Public Works Supervisor Chris Drey said. “We’ve injected some in the past, and some we still had to cut down while some have worked.”

While Tree-age may save a tree from the ash borer beetle, it’s also a temporary solution. 

Channahon Public Works Administrative Assistant Diane Cook said Tree-age is usually good for two years, then the tree needs to be treated again. But the idea is to inject bigger trees and those under ownership of residents until the infestation dies out.

Private ash trees

Channahon conducted a study two years ago identifying more than 2,000 parkway ash trees and is replacing them at a consistent rate of about 100 each year.

But for residents wanting to replace trees that have been taken down in the parkway, Channahon offers a 50-50 program in which the village will contribute half the funds required to install a new tree in its place.

The village will also consider leaving ash trees in parkways in some circumstances if the homeowner wants to treat them.

“Removal is the village’s responsibility, but it’s the resident’s choice if they want to remove or treat the tree,” Cook said.

Plainfield, Joliet and Shorewood officials said there are currently no private tree replacement reimbursement programs. Lockport is discussing the idea, but New Lenox offers the same 50-50 program for privately-owned ash trees as Channahon. However, it has a year-long waiting list.

“At this point, we’ve been telling people calling since June to wait for the next year due to time and budgetary reasons,” New Lenox Public Works Director Brian Williams said.

Future demand

New Lenox, which had 2,785 ash trees as of 2012, is replacing trees by going through the Suburban Tree Consortium.

Along with Plainfield, New Lenox joins several municipalities in DuPage and Cook counties to get better pricing on new trees with local nurseries.

However, with dozens of Chicago and Joliet area communities buying up ash tree replacements in the next several years, demand and competition will be high.

“We are increasing line of production over the next couple of years,” said Dave Aniballi, yard manager of Hinsdale Nurseries, which supplies trees to the consortium.

Aniballi said that nurseries still have trees leftover from when demand plummeted following the Great Recession. But now the economy has turned around and the nurseries will be lining out trees more aggressively.

“It’s been a good growing season this year,” Aniballi said. “Ready for buying up.”

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