On the warpath: Neighborhood treats ash to prevent borer
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Sam Moser is called a hero in the life-and-death battle to save tree-lined streets in Arlington Heights.
Moser and two other residents he recruited mobilized people on three blocks near Heritage Park in the southern part of the village to treat 130 ash trees on their parkways in hopes of preventing their death from emerald ash borer.
Research supports the efforts of residents like Moser, said Bruce Fraedrich, director of the research laboratories of Bartlett Tree Experts, and a member of an international coalition working on the issue.
Governments and citizens around the suburbs are listening and fighting back to save their tree-lined streets.
Trees are an emotional topic in the suburbs, and many developers chose ash trees to arch over winding subdivision streets when the graceful American elms succumbed to Dutch elm disease.
In Arlington Heights more than 13,000 of the 36,000 parkway or streetside trees are ashes. And that is a drop in the bucket to the millions of ash trees already lost to this insect and its larva across the upper Midwest.
Moser does not even have ashes by his property — his parkway trees are maples, but it's the streetscape he is trying to protect.
"When you come home from work at night and turn the corner do you want to see a beautiful tree-lined street or not?"
After an educational campaign, Moser and his allies collected funds from owners of about 80 of the 350 homes in the subdivision.
Residents also contributed to save 20 trees on their own property, and the total was large enough that the price dropped to $95 per tree.
The treatment — brand name TREE-age — is injected by trained technicians and is expected to last two or three years before needing reapplication. The village will help monitor the trees to see if they are infested, said Dru Sabetello, village forester.
The treatment was applied last spring, which is the ideal time because the sap is rising, said Fraedrich.
Moser is haunted by the specter of nearby Cedar Glen, a neighborhood east of Arlington Heights Road and north of Algonquin Road, where the village plans to remove 177 trees that the pest has killed.
The Coalition for Urban Ash Tree Conservation and other scientists have done amazing work, Fraedrich said. Michigan and Ohio have seen much of the damage from the borer, but researchers in Wisconsin and Illinois are among those who have tackled the issue.
Tree treatment is cost effective, according to the "amazing unanimity" expressed at a coalition summit less than a month ago, he said. Companies like his are very sensitive to the fact that governments are strapped for funds. Treatment can be very expensive for a few trees because of such issues as setup and dealing with multiple homeowners, but drops considerably with volume.
And research shows that selected trees can effectively be treated, even if others in the immediate area are left to the insects.
The borer moves so fast that an area's ash population can be eliminated in seven or eight years, he said. Dead ash trees have to be cut down quickly regardless of the expense because their large branches can fall on people and property.
In the Chicago suburbs, the borer is advanced enough that Fraedrich would recommend using the TREE-Age type treatment, even though it is more expensive than a do-it-yourself substance than can be spread on the roots. And he says it should be done next spring, even for trees where no damage has been detected.
"Researchers have been using TREE-age about six years," he aid. "What they're finding is even under the worst conditions, if one in 10 trees is treated, that one tree does not get damaged whatsoever. It's as close to 100 percent as you can get in science. Three researchers have data at least five years old now."
And it is not expected that trees will have to be treated forever, he said, as the borer population dies after killing available trees.
"The point that we're really trying to get across, you don't have to treat every single tree. Treat the high value ones," he said.
Last month village staff estimated that treating all the parkway ash trees in Arlington Heights would cost $1.6 million. Removing all the ash trees would cost $6.4 million, replanting new ones another $5.1 million if each tree is replaced, and restoring the sites another $425,100.
Wasps are effective only to keep a very small borer population in check, he said.
If 25 or 30 percent of branches on a tree are dead — leafless and with peeling bark — it is probably too late to treat the tree.
Trees are very important for managing stormwater runoff and air quality, he said.
The borer has been in the United States about nine years, he said.
"Researchers in the Midwest have done a phenomenal job. They gained a lot of information very quickly. The genetics work is also phenomenal. We will have resistant ashes much more quickly than we got resistant elms.
"The ash is a very important tree, tough, durable."
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