Monday, August 20, 2012

How the emerald ash borer is changing the suburban landscape

With more than 3 million ash trees here, the emerald ash borer is changing the suburban landscape — forever

 From the Daily Herald
First of three parts

Bare suburban streets. Thousands of gallons of rainwater with nowhere to go. Billions of dollars in public money. Higher air-conditioning and heating bills. Lower property values. And millions of dead trees that could pose hazards to people and property.

In the next five to seven years, the tiny emerald ash borer will utterly change the landscape of the Chicago region. In some places, it will happen one tree at a time; in others, whole blocks of trees will be felled at once.

Illinois has the largest population of public ash trees in the nation, with at least 5.5 million on developed land statewide and nearly 3 million of those in the Chicago area, according to a study on emerald ash borer damage expected between 2009 and 2019.

Between those public trees and millions more on private property and in forest preserves, nearly 1 in every 5 trees in the region is an ash — all of which will be destroyed by the ash borer if not treated.
“This is like a natural disaster in slow motion,” said Scott Shirmer, emerald ash borer program manager for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“We didn't see it coming very far in advance, and once we did, we tried to prepare as best we could,” he said. “We'll just have to pick up the pieces afterward.”

Worse, that slow-moving disaster is actually speeding up. Ash borer treatments don't work nearly as well on trees that are not well watered, and trees have been weakened in general by the drought — making some people wonder if treatments are even worth it.

That same study, done by experts in entomology, forestry and economics, says that in the 25 states where emerald ash borer infestation is at its peak, dealing with it will cost upward of $10.7 billion.

Illinois' share of that is estimated at $2.1 billion, split up among municipalities, forest preserves, private landowners and other government units.

Michigan and Indiana have already gotten the worst of it. Fort Wayne, Ind., has lost thousands of ash trees and plans to remove another 4,500 in 2012.

Chad Tinkel, manager of forestry operations for Fort Wayne, said knowledge and planning are key to avoiding the “massive catastrophe” his city has seen.

“Act now,” he warned. “Do not wait and think you can handle it as it comes.”

Andi Dierich, forest pest outreach coordinator for the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, said the ash borer is devastating everywhere it strikes.

“But, there's so much ash that was planted here, so the devastation is just magnified,” she said.

Ash tree overload

The suburbs are heavily populated with ash trees, which make up nearly 35 percent of some towns' tree populations.

As suburbs expanded in the past half-century and developers looked for trees to decorate the new subdivisions, ash was an inexpensive, fast-growing, large-canopied option. As well, it had no known predator, an important factor in the post-Dutch Elm disease years.

The emerald ash borer, which evolved in Asia, first came to the U.S. around 1990, hidden in packing crates and pallets aboard ships and planes. The bug was first seen in 2002 in Detroit suburbs.

It would traditionally take years for borers to move even a few miles, but humans sped up the infestation by moving infected pallets and firewood around the country, Shirmer said.

read the rest of this article HERE


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