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Here’s How You Can Help Protect Chicago’s Trees From Emerald Ash Borer

"We need to take our audit to people and let them know that the trees won't be there in a few years unless they keep treating them."

A parkway tree being treated for the emerald ash borer beetle.
DNAinfo/Patty Wetli
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LINCOLN SQUARE — The North River Commission is asking for help identifying trees that need to be treated to prevent infestation by the emerald ash borer beetle — even though the city has stopped treating its parkway trees.

The beetle feeds on ash trees and is native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan and Korea. It first appeared in the United States in 2002 in Michigan and has spread, killing over 30 million trees in the northeastern United States and Canada, according to the City of Chicago, which has not been spared.

In 2013, the city invested $2.6 million to conduct basic tree trimming and maintenance services, which included inoculating ash trees against the invasive beetle.

Credit: Save Your Ash
The emerald ash borer destroys trees from the inside out.

City crews were initially assembled to assess the health of trees to see whether they should be treated or removed.

But, “We’re no longer doing the injections. We started those six years ago and we’ve completed them, ” said Marjani Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s forestry division.

“Every two years we do surveys of the ash trees. We just conducted one in August of 2018 so we’re up to speed on the situation with ash trees on the city’s parkways,” Williams said. That program focuses only on trees that are in city parkways.

Residents with concerns about trees that may be dead or posing a threat on a parkway should call 311, she said.

The treatment involves drilling holes at the tree’s base and injecting the chemical emamectin benzoate, which should protect the tree for at least three years before requiring a “booster shot.”

“In 2013 the city department of forestry began a program of treating the ash trees for the emerald ash bore infestation,” said John Friedmann, president of the North River Commission, at a June 4 meeting at River Park, 5100 N. Francisco Ave.

“They’ve been doing it pretty well over the last six years but in some neighborhoods they’ve lost track of when some of the trees were treated,” he said.

RELATED: Emerald Ash Borer Target of $2.6 Million Plan to Save City Trees

Trees inoculated in 2013 were tagged with a red medallion stamped with the year of treatment. Since 2013 different colors have been used to easily identify trees ready for a three-year booster shot.

The commission is currently conducting a tree audit to identify which ash trees need to be treated again to keep them healthy and infestation free.

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
John Friedmann, president of the North River Commission, talking about the tags used to identify which trees need treatments at River Park on June 4, 2019.

“Any tag that is not either yellow or silver” identifies a tree that “needs to be treated this year or else the tree will die,” Friedmann said. “So we’d like to have a group of volunteers work with us by going out, riding their bikes and just walking down the street identifying tags so we can get the department of forestry out to come and treat those trees.”

Friedmann was surprised to hear the forestry department had stopped giving their parkway ash trees treatments every three years and called the decision “boneheaded.”

He likened not treating the ash trees to putting off preventive dental care to save a few bucks and then later needing an expensive root canal or total extraction.

To this end the commission will still conduct its tree audit to help identify which critically endangered trees need “booster shots.”

“We need to take our audit to people and let them know that the trees won’t be there in a few years unless they keep treating them,” Friedmann said. “We know we can’t save them all but we can save enough of the species so 30 or 40 years down the road they’re still there,” he said.

To this end, the commission plans to enlist the support of community organizations, local universities and other partner groups to inform area residents about the policy change and the “dire implications” for the city’s tree canopy.

“We will encourage them to contact our new area aldermen and other city officials to get the program reinstated,” Friedmann said.

In the case of the city’s parks, most ash trees have been removed and new trees planted in their place within a year, said Irene Tostado, a park district spokesperson. “The Chicago Park District has opted not to inoculate ash trees located in our parks, but instead has focused its resources on replacing ash trees with a diverse variety of sustainable trees,” she said.

Before the city’s ash program launched, Friedmann helped lead the preservation of the ash trees in Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave., using the injectable insecticide in 2013.

A total of 65 ash trees were treated in Horner, preventing their infestation by the invasive beetle. Horner’s park advisory council, of which Friedmann is vice president, covered the cost of the treatments after the park district initially declined to inject the trees with the preventative treatment.

Six years later Horner Park’s ash trees are still healthy and getting regular three-year treatments, thanks to the funds raised by the park’s annual beer festival.

“The park district doesn’t have any ash trees left except for Horner,” Friedmann said. “Thanks to Horner Brew Fest, the treatments are funded and the trees won’t need another treatment until 2022.”

Credit: Flickr/John Hritz
The telltale trail of damage inside the trunk of a tree infected by the emerald ash borer beetle.

In addition to the tree audit, the commission’s environmental committee is conducting reviews of the river and foot trails along the North Branch of the Chicago River and North Channel waterways.

“We’re going to put people in boats on the river all the way from Clark Park to the south, to Labagh Woods on the northwest and then also Peterson Park on the North Channel,” Friedmann said. “The purpose of that – to actually go on the river and see which areas could use improvement regarding canoe access, like launches, and any modifications to make it a better user experience.”

For example, volunteers auditing the trail where the North Branch and the North Channel meet near River Park, 5100 N. Francisco Ave., will be in paddle boats on water, assessing hazards and debris, like tree trunks that need to be removed.

The walking trail audit has similar goals along the trails from Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St., to Gompers Park, 4222 W. Foster Ave., and Peterson Park, 5801 N. Pulaski Rd.

“Just walking trails or biking the trails to assess whether it needs new concrete, better signage, better lighting or access and eliminating hazards,” Friedmann said. “We’re not talking about big- picture things but little things that can be done now for a limited amount of funds to make it a better user experience while big projects are in the works.”

For more information on how to get involved in these audits, contact the North River Commission at 773-478-0202 or info@northrivercommission.org.

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