Workers cut down tree in hopes of halting spread

By Robert Mitchum
Chicago, IL (June 20, 2008)- With the buzz of a chainsaw and a thick, short crack, the first Chicago victim of the emerald ash borer fell a few minutes after noon Thursday. The fallen green ash tree, which stood along a South Side stretch of State Street for almost 40 years, was in a grove where city, state and federal officials last week made the first discovery of the invasive Asian beetle within the city limits.

Though the ash borer’s debut in the city had been expected given its rapid spread through surrounding states in recent years, officials still reacted with sadness to its arrival. “We always hoped it wasn’t going to show up, while knowing the whole time that it was going to show up,” senior city forester John Lough said as he watched workers dismember the tree near State and 29th Streets. “I was hoping it would be a number of years, but it is good that we found it as early as we could.”
First found in Michigan in 2002, the half-inch emerald ash borer has swept across the Midwest and into Illinois communities with astonishing quickness, destroying more than 20 million ash trees. In Chicago, where more than 96,000 ash trees line city streets and make up almost one-fifth of the city’s street tree population, experts warned that the effect of the beetle’s spread could be devastating.

“Ash trees are good, strong trees. They’re reliable, they grow well, they’re inexpensive to produce,” said Edith Makra, arborist and community tree advocate for Morton Arboretum. “We’d be losing the workhorse component of the urban forest, and with the volume and spread of ash trees, that’s pretty extensive.”
In neighborhoods with a high volume of ash trees, like the area where the first infested trees were found, the widespread death or removal of the trees could be traumatic. “That block is predominantly ash-it’s the major canopy cover on that street,” said senior city forester Joseph McCarthy. “If that’s lost over time, it will have a devastating effect.”
Forestry officials were alerted to the infestation last week after a suspicious insect was found in one of the traps placed this spring. When Lough stripped the bark from a small ash tree near a bus stop at State and 29th on the morning of June 12, he immediately noticed telltale signs of a borer’s presence: small, round holes in the trunk and a serpentine pattern along the bark.
With a small knife, Lough plucked four insects from the softened wood, which were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for testing. Confirmation that the insects were indeed the city’s first emerald ash borers was received the next day, and officials later found that at least five more trees along the block were stricken.
Why the emerald ash borers chose the area just north of the Illinois Institute of Technology to make their debut was unknown Thursday. Officials speculated that the insect could have traveled there via a landscaping project, aboard the Green Line trains that whiz by, or through traffic on State Street. “This is one of the busiest streets in the world,” said Paul Deizman, emerald ash borer program manager for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Officials reassured residents that the insect had not yet been detected in other neighborhoods, but promised that their management response would be swift. “Our immediate priority is to control the spread of this infestation and to try to save as many trees as possible,” said city Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Mike Picardi.
Picardi said that cutting down trees would be the last resort in most cases. “I think we can’t save all the ashes, but we’ll be trying to spot the biggest and best ash trees to save, the nice, big, elegant ones that show no signs of disease yet,” said Glenda Daniel, community greening director for the Chicago nonprofit Openlands. “People are really attached to their trees.”
Related Resources:
Morton Arboretum
Chicago Tribune: Workers cut down tree in hopes of halting spread
CBS2: Destructive Emerald Ash Borer Found On South Side