Aldermen warn: Treat city’s ash trees or risk losing nearly 100,000

By Fran Spielman

Chicago, IL (June 4, 2012)- Chicago risks losing all 91,000 of its parkway trees – triggering removal and replacement costs of $70 million to $100 million over the next five-to-seven years – unless it steps up treatment for the tree-killing emerald ash borer, aldermen were warned Monday.

At the behest of a company that’s been supplying the chemicals needed to treat Chicago trees since 2009, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved a resolution urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to spend at least $1.4 million in each of the next three years to inoculate ash trees. In 2003, the emerald ash borer was first discovered in Michigan and Indiana, prompting Chicago to preemptively impose a moratorium on the planting of new ash trees.
Chicago parkway ash borer
In 2008, Chicago set out to treat 80 percent of its 91,000 parkway ash trees over a four-year period. Cutbacks in a Bureau of Forestry decimated by budget cuts in recent years dramatically altered the plan – to the point where only 18,000 trees have been treated with the single injection.

Unless those cutbacks are reversed and soon, Chicago will fast reach the tree equivalent of the point of no return. Thousands of trees will die, depriving Chicago of the “urban canopy” needed to cool homes, reduce watering costs, preserve home values and reduce flooding. Those dead trees will have to be removed, at an estimated cost of $1,100-per-tree. If they’re not removed, dead tree branches could fall, endangering motorists, pedestrians and homeowners, possibly even triggering a series of costly judgments against the city.

“If we don’t do something immediately, the trees are at the tipping point and so many will be lost, the cost will be so enormous, the city will bear a burden of $70 million or more in the next few years,” said Rob Gorden, director of Urban Forestry for Arborjet, the company that supplies the chemicals and trains Forestry employees to administer them.
emerald ash borer
“These trees don’t affect people until they suddenly start dying – and it’s an accelerated death curve that occurs. We’re at that point now where that’s going to begin to accelerate. Suddenly, you’re gonna see trees that you thought were healthy dying. …Someone’s gonna have to remove them or they’re going to fall on someone, then the city is going to have to remove them and deal with all of that.” He noted that the city of Fort Wayne, Ind., has a dozen tort liability lawsuits pending stemming from falling tree branches.

Michael Brown, assistant general superintendent of forestry for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, said 80,000 of Chicago’s 91,000 parkway ash trees are still worth treating. The remaining 11,000 of Chicago’s parkway ash trees are already infected to the point where they face “the chainsaw,” as he put it.

Brown said he’s all for stepping up tree inoculations. But he warned, “Every tree trimmer we put on doing emerald ash borer treatment is a tree trimmer who comes off of tree trimming or a tree removal crew. We just have the amount of manpower we have. That is another consideration for me.” The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the resolution. Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), who introduced the resolution, said, “If the city can’t afford it, the mayor is very persuasive with private industry. … Somebody’s got to come forward.” Tree-lined suburbs all around Chicago-including Evanston, Deerfield, Gurnee, Buffalo Grove and Arlington Heights-are all grappling with the same problem.

Related Resource:
Chicago Sun-Times- Aldermen warn: Treat city’s ash trees
Community Ash Densities and Economic Impact Potential of Emerald Ash Borer
Emerald Ash Borer Network
National Emerald Ash Borer Website