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posted: 5/12/2014 2:05 PM

Dealing with the emerald ash borer in Dundee

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  • The emerald ash borer has infected many trees in East and West Dundee at considerable cost to the villages.

      The emerald ash borer has infected many trees in East and West Dundee at considerable cost to the villages.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2008


Remember: change is good.

If the emerald ash borer has taught us anything, it is not to become too attached to the stately trees that line our streets or dot our parks. The metallic green bug has made sure that we feel the sentimental pangs of seeing our favorite trees gone overnight.

It has burrowed into thousands of ash trees in East and West Dundee, infected them, and killed them. Leaders in both villages have no choice but to have the dead, bare trees cut down as soon as possible.

So far, experts think the borer has an appetite only for ash trees, but that's enough because many neighborhoods built in the 1970s and 1980s were planted with the fast-growing tree. In a few cases, one or two trees were cut down on a block in both villages. It was worse in other neighborhoods.

"We took down 40 trees in the Reserves (of East Dundee)," said Jim Kelly, public works director. "Some of them weren't very large trees, but we decimated some neighborhoods."

At least 40 other ash trees, some that had been standing for generations, were also cut down in other East Dundee neighborhoods. Village leaders will spend money to replace the trees, but they won't be as large or the same species.

If arborists throughout the country learned anything from the ash borer invasion, it is to plant a variety of trees that are not vulnerable to the same pest or disease, Kelly said.

During the 1940s and 1950s, elms were the favorite trees to plant in the right of way between residential sidewalks and streets. Many were sickened and killed, though, by the elm bark beetle. Many of those trees were replaced by silver maples, fast-growing trees that quickly filled the void.

In the 1970s, ash trees were the popular tree to plant in rights-of-way and in parks.

"They were fast growing and abundant," Kelly said.

Their nemesis, the ash borer, caught up with them 30 years later. In 2002, the borer came to the United States from Europe. It was found in Michigan and eventually spread south. Eight years ago it was found in Illinois.

With no warning, a tree that looked healthy one day could be bare or dead within a week. Many local residents were forced to watch their favorite neighborhood landmark reduced to wood chunks and sawdust.

The U.S. Department Agriculture requires infected trees to be treated. If they are already dead, they must be removed -- fast.

Leaders in the arboriculture industry have also establish more specific guidelines to ensure villages do not repeat the same pattern of planting one or two types of trees that will be vulnerable to an invasive pest or disease.

"From 2008 to 2013, we have had 918 ash trees removed," said Richard Babica, West Dundee public works director and a certified arborist. "Last year alone, we had 388 trees removed."

More than half of those removed have been replaced with a variety of more 15 different types of trees, which include oaks and maples.

None of the new trees match the size of those cut down, and many of them are not planted where the older trees stood.

"No longer can we plant more than four of the same types of trees in a row," Babica said.

For residents who like to see their streets arched with cranberry-colored leaves in the fall, get used to the change. In some neighborhoods, it will be decades until the new trees reach the same maturity as the previous trees.

East and West Dundee public works employees will continue to plant trees this year, and they will continue to work with residents when those trees are planted.

"We still have 223 trees to replace," Babica said. "It's a labor-intensive process, and it's costly. The replacement trees cost from $225 to $275 each, but the village recognizes the importance of a strong tree replace program."

East Dundee village leaders share their sentiments, Kelly said.

For information about the tree replacement programs, call the West Dundee village hall at (847) 551-3800 or the East Dundee village hall at (847) 426-2822.

Send your news and column ideas from Sleepy Hollow, Carpentersville, Gilberts, East and West Dundee to Gerard Dziuba at

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