Officials: Still time to fight ash borer
By the numbers
According to estimates by the Janesville Shade Tree Advisory Committee in 2009:
Number of street-side ash trees in Janesville
Cost to remove and replace street-side ash trees
Number of trees of all species growing along Janesville streets
Annual energy savings that street trees provide to residents
Number of ash trees on all properties citywide
JANESVILLE The Janesville City Council was warned in 2009.
It was urged in 2010 to get ready for the inevitable arrival of a pest that could wipe out every ash tree in the city.
Now, the emerald ash borer is here.
There's no known way to stop the spread of this invasive species, so the council can't be faulted for its arrival.
Budget constraints were among the reasons the city hasn't done much to prepare for the arrival, City Manager Eric Levitt said Wednesday.
The good news is that the invasion of the ash tree-killers is likely to move slowly, giving city officials time to prepare.
"It's unlike a flood. A flood happens, and you have to respond immediately," Levitt said Wednesday, about 24 hours after the announcement that an infestation was confirmed in a tree on the city's east side.
City officials met with DNR experts Wednesday to discuss options. Staff will make recommendations in mid-to-late July, Levitt said.
"This is going be a five-plus year issue, so we're not going to give a 24-hour solution to something we have to address in a very systematic way," Levitt said.
In the meantime, city staff members are looking for more signs of the ash borers, and the city is warning the public to take precautions, including avoiding moving firewood, which is one way the insects are transported.
"We don't know if this is in a fairly small area of Janesville at this point or how big an area is impacted," Levitt said.
Residents with concerns should contact a tree service that has the services of an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, the city said in a news release.
Certification by the Wisconsin Arborists Association is also good, said Chris Ranum of the local LP Tree Service.
Janesville needs to revise an ordinance that was written for a major tree killer of the 1970s, Dutch elm disease, Levitt said. It also needs to consider budgeting for removal and replacement of lost trees.
Dead trees, along streets especially, are hazards.
Janesville has no city forester, but some workers have "arborist-type training," and more training is needed, Levitt said.
Beloit has a city forester, an ordinance dealing with ash borer infestations and plans for disposing of infested wood, said Beloit city forestry supervisor Mike Ferger.
Ferger said Beloit will examine its plans and revise them, now that ash borers are in nearby Janesville.
Ferger said he'll likely ask for more funding to replace dead trees.
"It's going to eradicate our ash trees," Ferger said.
"It's not going to wipe us out overnight," Ferger said. "It's going to take time, much like the Dutch elm disease. It's here. Now we're going to have to deal with it."
Signs of emerald ash borers have been discovered in recent weeks in three locations just to the east—Lake Geneva, Fontana and southwest of Lake Geneva near the state line.
Wisconsin's first infestations were discovered in 2008. They now include 12 counties: Brown, Crawford, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Vernon, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha.
Levitt said his administration did not recommend council action when the Janesville Shade Tree Advisory Committee presented an action plan to the council in 2010. It was more in the nature of a report.
The committee also presented a report in 2009 that warned of the danger, and the DNR has maintained a checklist to help municipalities prepare.
Levitt said he tried to budget for planting of more diverse tree species, but lack of money doomed that idea.
Experiences of other communities have shown that some of the actions recommended just a few years ago were not effective, while others still can be effective if the city starts now, Levitt said. He had not delved into the details and could not give any examples.
Dick Rideout, urban forestry coordinator for the DNR, said the loss of urban ash trees is an opportunity for cities to replace them with many kinds of trees, which is recommended to guard against large-scale losses when a pest attacks a particular species.
The temptation is to go cheap and buy just a couple of different species, Rideout said.
"We're going to lose a lot of trees, and what we do next is going to seal the fate for the next generation," Rideout said.
Rideout noted that trees reduce air conditioning costs, absorb water that would otherwise run into sewers or cause flooding, absorb air pollutants and increase property values.
A study in Michigan found that residents greatly increased use of municipal water for lawns and gardens after they lost their ash trees, Rideout said.
Rideout warns that if officials don't take necessary steps, urban forests will remain at risk. Already, another invasive species, the Asian longhorn beetle, is nearby in Illinois. These beetles love maple trees and can kill them.
More than half of Janesville's streetside trees are maples.