By Anna Lothson
Oak Park's historic tree-lined streets have been threatened in recent years by the Emerald Ash Borer disease, but one Oak Park resident fears the village is doing too much to prune otherwise healthy trees.
But Village Forester Jim Semelka said in a recent interview that the village has an appropriate tree pruning cycle that isn't done unnecessarily.
Resident Gary Johnson advocated during the public portion comment of the May 20 village board meeting for trustees to re-examine its forestry regulations and pruning policies. Johnson started a group 13 years ago to combat what the group believed was over-pruning on the village's part. The tree cutback amount was reduced, he said, but this year, he said the problem is back.
"You're driving around ….and you're wondering where is the consistency in policies about pruning, planting trees and mulching," Johnson said, who brought pictures of examples of the trees he thinks are overly pruned.
"This year, it happened again," he said, referring to an old Gingko tree that lost many of its limbs. He suggested the board change its policy on tree spacing, and change the vision for Oak Park's forestry department.
Semelka said he hasn't gotten any recent calls regarding over pruning complaints. He said the village operates on a rotation where a quarter of the trees are pruned every year. The village uses a tree trimming company for limbs 10 inches in diameter or larger, but the forestry staff handles smaller trees.
From a passerbys' perspective, he said it's often hard to tell after a tree has been trimmed back why that particular tree was pruned to the extent it was. For example, the limbs may have been dead or needed to be raised in a different direction. Cutting trees back on a cycle, he said, allows for the tree to be trimmed less.
"It's kind of hard to tell after," Semelka said. "It's easier to tell beforehand."
It's easy to see why residents would think trees are over pruned, he said, because some trees have to be drastically cut back. For example, last week he was in a neighborhood where the trees were cutback significantly, but for a specific reason.
As Dutch Elm and Emerald Ash Borer disease continues to be an issue, the village "is clobbered" with the amount of trees that have to be taken down. About400 of each type of trees have been removed each year for the past two years. Semelka expects the trend to continue for the next 3 to 5 years. By then, he expects, the village won't have any more parkway Ash trees.
Semelka also explained that because Oak Park's homes are built north and south and the trees are growing east and west, the trees can become too crowded as they mature and must be pruned back.
"We're not trying to plant less trees," he said. "I'm not concerned about the maturity of the trees. We have a healthy, low maintenance canopy. We're well funded for pruning and planting."