Try and get this Peter, Paul and Mary melody out of your head…

Where have all the Ash trees gone, long time passing?
Where have all the Ash trees gone, long time ago?

Must I go on?

Where have all the Ash trees gone?

Yes, I must.

Killed by Emerald Ash Borer beetles every one.
When will we ever learn?
Biodiversity is not just a trendy term.

I hope you get the point.

Recently, two more big, beautiful Ash trees  (Fraxinus species) were removed in the blink of an eye on my once tree-lined street in Oak Park. I understand that it’s a result of the ongoing and terrible Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) infestation, of course.

Knowing that doesn’t make it easier in seeing this all over the Village.

EAB’s rampage launched in southeast Michigan in 2002.  Over time it eventually took out all those Ash trees. 

Now, sources say the invasive wood boring beetle from Asia has spread into 15 states, arriving in Illinois on June 9 of 2006.

The insect was first discovered in Oak Park on July 28, 2008.

Hey, hey…shout out to the unlucky 700 block of North Lombard.  Their trees were first.

Then and now, the Village’s response to the EAB infestation is to remove the failing Ash trees.

Recently, when I rang up VOP’s new top tree guy, Rob Sproule, he explained to me how in Oak Park we now have a pretty diverse arbor of 18,744 trees, as over time new trees are being strategically planted.

However, at the onset of the EAB epidemic here, there were approximately 2,600 Ash trees.  The official count in the fall of 2014 came in at about 1,185 still standing.

And, that inventory doesn’t account for the Ash trees being actively removed day in and day out in our neighborhoods.

Some quasi-good news:  Based on VOP’s recent inventory results, it has been determined that it might be worth saving a small percentage in the Ash population, depending on the species, that is.

“In white ash, the symptoms seem to come in a bit slower, [then Green Ash] and the tree seems to tolerate  EAB better,” Forester Rob says.  “So, if you have a White Ash, and it’s a smaller size tree, it could be worth it to invest in a treatment program, if it is something you want to preserve.  The cost of treatment usually goes up with the size of the tree, so treating a smaller tree is more cost-effective than treating a larger tree.”

However, as of this writing, Forester Rob says more than half of our Ash trees have been taken away.  And, more will follow, related to the those little green beetles.
“From our perspective, how we approach this is that every Ash tree, unless we know that it is actively being treated, has EAB,” Sproule says. 

“The most common symptoms you are going to see is die-back in the top of the crown, because the insect usually attacks the top of the tree first,” he says.  “It will start to get thinner, and die out.  So, when you see this new flush of growth lower down in the canopy — usually not at the ground level —  that is the tree’s attempted response to replace the dead tissue it lost higher up.”

And, there is this:  “As the infestation gets heavier, you will actually start to see the bark flaking off, because you will start to get woodpecker activity on the tree, spots where woodpeckers are trying to pull away the bark so they can eat the EAB larvae that is under the bark,” he says.

But, lovers of Ash trees, don’t dismay.

Oh, who am I kidding.  DISMAY! 

“In Illinois, at this point where we are at, there are some products on the market that can control the insect, so you can control the infestation, as long as you continue to treat the tree.  But, as soon as you stop treating the tree, the infestation can start to come back,” Sproule says.

How did we get here?  Let me count the ways.

“Way before my time, or before most of our times, is that when the Elm Disease came through, afterwards they did not realize the importance of diversifying the ecosystem.  So the thought was, well, we lost all these Elms, now lets replace them with Ash trees,” he says.  “What is happening now, is the same thing that happened in the 50s and 60s when Dutch Elm Disease came through.”

Still, what is a community of tree lovers — and huggers such as myself — to do?

Bid adieu to the beloved Ash, I guess as in Oak Park they most likely will become only saw dust in the wind.

If you are hell-bent on trying to save yours — parkway or private — give it a go, but be willing to cover the costs of the chemical treatments.

“If the tree is in relatively good condition, that means less than 50 percent canopy loss, they could look at doing treatment,” Sproule says. “Four or five species of Ash trees are infected here, and the biggest problem is that after the insect attacks the tree, the symptoms typically appear 3 to 5 years into the infestation, so when you discover it, the tree already has significant damage.”

Even so, do a little research first, then don’t be shy to ring up Forester Rob at 708-358-5700 for some free private consulting on your Ash tree issue.

Debbie Downer signing off.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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