Biting into budgets

Lake in the Hills arborist Rob Caldwell cuts down a tree that was infected with emerald ask borer on Sullivan Pass in Lake in the Hills on Tuesday. Emerald ash borer is an invasive species native to Asia and is highly destructive to ash trees.
Lake in the Hills arborist Rob Caldwell cuts down a tree that was infected with emerald ask borer on Sullivan Pass in Lake in the Hills on Tuesday. Emerald ash borer is an invasive species native to Asia and is highly destructive to ash trees.

The cost of battling emerald ash borers that are wiping out ash trees across the region is adding up.

Municipalities are spending thousands of dollars to remove and replace trees ravaged by the metallic-green beetle. They’re saving trees they can and preventing hazardous conditions around the ones that are the most severely damaged.

“They have no choice but to spend the money on it because otherwise it becomes a huge liability,” said Julieann Heminghous, emerald ash borer outreach coordinator for the state.

Financially, it is more sound to remove trees before they fall and damage property or injure or kill someone, she said.

The beetle covers more than 40 percent of the state in as many as 39 counties, experts said. Only the western edge of the state is beetle-free.

The tree killer arrived near Detroit in 2002, most likely in wood-packing materials on cargo ships or planes from Asia, experts said. It was found in Kane County four years later.

Because infestation can take from three to eight years to show on ash trees, it wasn’t until the past few years that the damage
became considerably more noticeable.

“The only way this could have been prevented was more stringent regulations on wood products and treatment to avoid that first beetle hitchhiking over to the U.S.,” Heminghous said. “The devastation of our canopies is greater because we have such a high concentration of ash trees.”

Municipalities and developers stockpiled ash trees early on because of their hardiness and ability to grow quickly.

They also cost less, which explains why tree diversity isn’t what it could be.

“This will be a considerable loss to our canopy and will take years to recover,” Public Works Director Cris Papierniak said. “Diversity was not a consideration when subdivisions were first built, and some streets will have a severe impact while others will not notice the infestation.”

The 1,800 ash trees in the village of Cary are 28 percent of the trees on public right of way. Eighty-five percent of those are showing signs of ash borer infestation, and crews so far have removed 450 of them.

“Diversity is the key,” said Scott Schirmer, ash borer program manager with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “We will be able to avoid significant losses if different trees are planted.”

The village budgeted $87,500 this year for its 50/50 replacement program in which trees are removed for free and the replacement costs are split between the village and residents, Papierniak said. The total budget impact of infestation is estimated at $1.5 million.

Ash borers also have left a mark on the village of Algonquin, where more than 34 percent of ash trees on public parkways are infected, parks Superintendent Steve Ludwig said. The village has removed 2,249 trees since 2006, and 190 more are on a removal list.

The village will spend around $90,000 this year to remove and replace ash trees. It would have cost millions, Ludwig said, if the village had contracted out the tree work rather than doing it itself.

“The challenge is to keep up, because if we do nothing, we are going to have dead-standing hazardous trees coming down,” Ludwig said. “That would cost more in hazard mitigation and lawsuits” than dealing with the infected trees in the first place, he said.

Elsewhere in the county, there are more than 1,000 infested trees in Lake in the Hills and 500 in Crystal Lake.

Officials from each town are doing what they can to replace as many trees as possible.

At $300 to $400 a pop to remove and replace a tree, crews have to work within budget guidelines, said Rob Caldwell, arborist in Lake in the Hills.

“We have been able to keep up with removal and replacement, but with the numbers growing, it is going to be difficult,” he said. “Future problems could arise financially.”

Crystal Lake recently spent $124,000 on a forestry division bucket truck that has improved the efficiency of in-house tree removal. The city has taken out 97 ash trees to date.

The thousands of infected ash trees on private property are up to homeowners, who can inject or soil-drench the trees with insecticides or have the trees removed or replaced at their own expense.

Both state and federal quarantines prohibit the transportation of ash products in and out of state.

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