Friday, July 19, 2013

Emerald ash borer leaves its mark on Illinois communities

Municipalities struggle to keep up with need to replace trees killed by infestation, restore canopy

July 13, 2013|By Jennifer Delgado, Chicago Tribune reporter

Melanie Pettry's block in Elburn looks a little lopsided.

On one side, leafy maples hover near almost every house, offering a thick canopy and shade for passers-by. But Pettry's side is practically barren after crews removed several 20-foot trees infected with emerald ash borer a few years ago. Now, some scraggly saplings stand in their place.

"When you see the trees, it just adds a little something more to the neighborhood," said the 35-year-old mother of three on a recent afternoon. "On this side, the landscaping is a little plain."
Seven years after emerald ash borer was first identified in Illinois, many area communities are living with the infestation's end result — giant holes in once-lofty tree coverings that spanned neighborhoods and subdivisions.

Some of the hardest-hit areas are the outer-ring suburbs, which relied heavily on ash because developers building subdivisions knew those trees cost less and grew fast. But the thinning canopy affects more than just aesthetics. The trees offered privacy and protection from the sun, residents said.

The green beetle traveled from Michigan, where officials have tackled the borer infestation for more than a decade. In communities where ash trees were removed, residents have complained of lower property values and higher water and electric bills, according to natural resources and agricultural officials.
Michigan communities battling the borer will have to wait decades before new trees mirror the stature of old ones, officials said. The same holds true for Illinois.

"The urban forest does so much, (but) I don't think people really realize it until it's actually lost," said Daniella Pereira, regional forester for Openlands, a regional land conservation organization. "No one realizes … what everything is going to look like in the next five to 10 years."

Slightly more than 8 percent of the canopy — 12.7 million trees — in the Chicago region consists of ash, including private property, according to The Morton Arboretum's 2010 count. But in five years, the only remaining ash in the Chicago area will be those protected by insecticides.

Since the exotic insect started gnawing at ash trees in Illinois, tens of thousands of trees on public property have been removed, leaving denuded spots near slabs of concrete and grassy parkways.
Morton Grove two years ago removed 224 ash trees, representing almost 2 miles of tree canopy. South suburban Homewood took down more than 2,500 ash trees, the tallest reaching 75 to 80 feet.

To prevent the disaster from happening again,.....more


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