Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Could emerald ash borer disaster happen again?

From the Daily Herald

Editor's note: Last of three parts

Gurnee streets supervisor Jake Balmes became the village's first forester in 2000, although as a certified arborist he knew when he joined the staff in 1995 that the village was overplanted with ash trees.

Travis Glay, manager of LandScapes Concepts of Grayslake, points out the destructive grid pattern of the emerald ash borer beetle after they cut down one of the 1,500 hundred trees slated for the chopping block in Schaumburg.

He tries to explain how this happened.

First, the Dutch elm devastation of the last century was not personally imprinted on Gurnee. Even its older neighborhoods did not have the tree-lined streets enjoyed by towns closer to Chicago, Balmes said.
As subdivisions multiplied and the village boomed, on paper Gurnee was asking developers for tree diversity.
But, “I think most communities worry first that the roads are going in right, the curbs are right, the streetlights and the water mains,” he said.

“A lot of times, even today, forestry is often overlooked. It's not considered an essential thing.”

To avoid another regional catastrophe like the emerald ash borer or Dutch elm disease, arborists say Chicago area communities, developers and residents have to agree that a town's overall tree stock must be heavily diversified.

As well, nurseries must make less common trees more readily available.

To do that will take knowledge and political will, two commodities that could be in short supply as developers and municipalities try to bring residential and commercial developments in at budget.
But how diverse should a municipality's public tree population be? Why did the suburbs end up with so many ash trees after the lessons learned by Dutch elm disease? And what is going to make communities do the smart thing this time?

Ideal diversity means a community has only 10 percent of a single genus, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. This challenging standard means all kinds of maples, for example, from red to Norway or silver, count as one genus.

That didn't happen very often over the last 40 years. Ashes were attractive because they grew quickly and thus inexpensively, thrived in the dreadful environment of parkways, had few known pests and provided the shady canopy residents mourned with the loss of their elms.

Balmes can talk about the expense and heartbreak this monoculture causes in Gurnee today. But he also understands officials decades ago who looked at the self-sufficient ash and saw less future maintenance for village crews.

Nurseries — the source of all these trees — were another part of the equation, said Robert Benjamin, who was a Chicago forester from 1971 to 2003.

Few trees were generally available that were considered strong enough to survive the harsh urban environment alongside a city street, with its heat, sporadic watering, salt and often dreadful soil, said the Lombard resident, the recent recipient of an Arbor Day Foundation award.
Nurseries grew “bread and butter trees”: maples, ash and locust.

“You can't buy a tree that nobody grows,” Benjamin said.

Imagine trying to convince officials accustomed to looking for the low bid to pay $35 for a ginkgo rather than $9 for an ash, said Benjamin, who said achieving tree diversity in Chicago was far from easy.

The rest of the article can be found HERE


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