The Emerald Ash Borer has destroyed thousands of trees throughout the U.S. and continues to sweep across the country. How can cities prepare and cope with the invasion of these beetles that have caused such a political ruckus and economic quandary for city government?
Read current research. “I’m amazed at how much misinformation is out there,” says Joe McElroy, councilman for Naperville, Ill. “If you are looking at research that is pessimistic, check the date when it was written. Experts have learned a lot about treatment in the past few years and improved the chemicals and doses needed to protect the trees.”
When McElroy first joined the council in 2011, he was amazed to find out how devastating EAB was. “When the elm trees were attacked, they died slowly and could still stand for a long period of time,” he says. “When the ash trees are infected, they darn-near shatter, which liability-wise creates a lot of problems.”
He describes Naperville’s approach as similar to surgeons in a battlefield. “You look at some trees and decide they are not going to make it either from being infected too early or they are too sick to save. We chop those down, but try to save the healthy trees by treating them with insecticide.” He believes it is cost effective to treat them even if they’re likely to die later, in 15 to 20 years. “If you save me from drowning, and I die 20 years later, do you think it wasn’t worth saving me? Urban trees don’t have a life expectancy of a thousand years anyway. If nothing else, it stages the removal.”
Visit other communities. McElroy suggests taking a trip to places further down the path of the EAB destruction, which gives a powerful image of the destruction of EAB. “Our photos tell the story,” he said. “You can look on one side of the street where the trees are fine from insecticide treatment. Along the other side you can see the dying trees that were untreated.”
Have a plan in place before the invasion. “We are in the thick of infestation right now,” says Steven Weinstock, director of engineering and public works for the city of Schaumburg, Ill. “My advice to other cities is to have a plan and get an early start on treating the trees with insecticide if that is part of your plan. If the tree has the insecticide when the beetles hatch, they die immediately.”
The city of Schaumburg also chose a multifold plan that included removal of weak or unhealthy trees prior to infestation and use of insecticide. “At first, we treated the trees with insecticide to try to slow the progression of the disease,” says Weinstock. “But, we’ve had good results and are now hoping to actually save some with the insecticide injections.”
Schaumburg also enacted a 50/50 Program with residents. If residents pay to replace a dead tree on their property, the city will pay half the cost as well.
The city had about 12,000 ash trees before the infestation and is hopeful that a few thousand will survive.
Be creative, resourceful and stay positive. “Cities cannot stop globalization,” said Bruce Horigan, certified arborist and co-owner of Horigan Urban Forest Products, a debris reduction company. “This is just the latest invasive species. Before this, it was Dutch Elm Disease that took out so many elms. There will be something else in the future.”
Horigan works with cities in the Chicago area to remove and recycle urban wood. “Urban wood is just as good as forest wood,” he said. Cities have made benches, tables and anything else that can be made of wood out of fallen trees.
Learn from the experts and resources available. Arborists recommend cities focus on diversifying their tree selection to reduce the likelihood of another mass destruction. Sometimes this is more difficult than it sounds — finding a variety of trees that can live in an urban area for the right price is a challenge to cities and private developers. Mike Raupp, professor of ornamental horticulture at the University of Maryland, suggests cities educate and encourage citizens to commit to plant diversity in their yard, with natives being the best option.
Cliff Sadof, professor of entomology at Purdue University, recently held a webinar entitled, “Fall is for EAB Planning” at EAB University online. He emphasized that control is feasible, but for a limited time. He also cited the city of Fort Wayne, Ind., as an example of what to avoid when dealing with EAB.
EAB was discovered there in 2006, but Fort Wayne did not spend money on treatments the first four years because city officials didn’t notice a lot of problems. Sadof calls that “the happy time.” However, by 2012 8 percent of the trees were dying, which became an overwhelming removal problem.
An Eastern U.S. problem for 10 years, the first confirmed cases of EAB infestation began appearing west of the Mississippi River two years ago, in Iowa and Minnesota.
“It’s hard to imagine how hard it is to remove 14,000 trees. The contractor who won the bid walked off the job because they said they just couldn’t do it,” says Sadof. “You want to avoid the period where all the trees are dying, all the trees are potentially falling down hurting people and property.”
Fortunately, Sadof and other experts in his field have worked diligently to provide a wealth of information and provide an EAB toolkit for municipalities.
Recently, EAB University online launched a series of webinars specifically for municipal administrators and elected officials. “The topics will be based on the EAB Risk Management programs,” says F. Bradford Bonham, ISA certified arborist. “Though tight, this info will be available in time for municipalities on a calendar fiscal year to adjust their budgets for 2013. For municipalities on a May–April fiscal year, it will fit into in the early stages of budget preparation.”
For upcoming webinars, visit
For archived webinars, visit www.emeraldashborer.info/eab_university_ondemand.cfm.
Sadof’s webinar, “Fall is for EAB Planning,” can be accessed at connect.msu.edu/p3vb4r605cn/