Forestry crews in Vernon Hills have begun to identify parkway trees suspected of being infected by the emerald ash borer, a voracious pest that is beginning to grow in numbers.
"It's hard to predict these things but based on our research and getting into the crowns of trees with our bucket trucks, we're seeing more and more damage than last fall," said David Brown, public works director.
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"We're in the process of marking trees and we'll start removals very soon after."
Vernon Hills and other communities have been preparing for an onslaught of the metallic green beetle that emerged in Illinois in 2006 and is now in about 200 communities, including about two dozen in Lake County.
Some communities essentially have conceded defeat and have fashioned long-term expensive plans. Schaumburg, for example, is beginning a 10-year, $9 million program to remove and replace thousands of ash trees.
That is not yet the case in Vernon Hills or neighboring Libertyville, although the signs of what's to come are apparent.
"There's no stopping the spread," said Jim Barlow, superintendent of parks in Libertyville. Last year, more than two dozen ash trees were removed. This year, it could be more than 200, according to Barlow, but it is too soon to know for sure.
The most visible sign of infestation is dead branches or loss of leaves from the top to the bottom of the tree. Debris from woodpeckers at the base of the tree is another indicator. As the tree declines, new young branches will sprout from the base and on the trunk.
"Realistically, we do have it," Barlow said. "We don't necessarily have great answers."
Last year in Vernon Hills, between 80 and 90 ash trees were removed in the New Century Town area, east of Butterfield Road and north of Route 60. This year, 160 will be removed and replaced.
The village received a grant of $20,000 from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus for that work.
"It's widespread, more than we anticipated," said Ken Loar, a crew leader with the public works department. "It's in every corner of the village."
Parkway trees that show signs of infestation or decline will be marked with an orange ribbon, painted dot or 'X'. The homeowner and neighbors will be notified with a card affixed to the door that outlines the steps the village will take to deal with the tree and its replacement.
About 3,500 -- or about a third -- of the 11,000 village-owned trees are ash trees. The village expects that the look of streets where nearly every ash tree is mature will change significantly as the beetle strikes.
"In the next year or two years, there's going to be a big spike," Brown said.
Libertyville also has secured a grant to replace about 50 trees under a 50-50 program with property owners but how the rest would be dealt with is under discussion.
The beetle has killed more than 25 million ash trees since being confirmed in the Midwest in 2002. The Illinois Department of Agriculture last November expanded the emerald ash borer quarantine, which now covers nearly 40 percent of Illinois.
For information, visit the agency's website.