As many as 40 damaged and fallen trees will have to be removed in Oak Park as the result of a storm that blew through the Chicago area last week.

But just as the storm was wreaking havoc on Oak Park’s urban forest, village workers were planting hundreds more. Nearly 350 new trees have been planted in the public way over the last week, according to Rob Sproule, Oak Park forestry superintendent. The village also plans to plant another 200 trees in November.

Sproule said the village began working with contractors in late May to plant 36 different kinds of trees in Oak Park. The variety brings a diversity that protects the village’s trees from the vulnerability of outbreaks that can wipe out large numbers of trees, such as those brought by emerald ash borer and Dutch elm disease.

About 70 of the new trees were planted the day of the May 31 storm, but Sproule said they were unaffected by the high winds – some believe that parts of the village were hit by a microburst – because the smaller trees were without a large crown to catch enough of the gust to do any real damage. New trees typically are about 10 to 15 feet tall and have a trunk about two inches in diameter, according to the village.

Sproule said in a news release that the cost of trees increases “exponentially when transplanting larger trees.”

“The chance of failure also goes up exponentially with larger trees,” he said. “The cost and risk are hard to justify when you consider that if you plant a two-inch tree and a four-inch tree at the same time, within five years they’re going to look the same.”

The village reports that 75 of the trees were planted in the medians along the 900, 1000, 1100 and 1200 blocks of North Kenilworth Avenue. Roughly 100 trees were removed from the area over the last year because of age and declining condition.

Most of the trees planted replace those removed as a result of Dutch elm disease and emerald ash borer infestations. But Sproule said public works employees also are removing Norway maple and linden trees that have reached the end of their life spans and must be removed.

He said there are about 300 to 400 ash trees left in town that could be stricken by the emerald ash borer, which infests and kills the trees – that number was closer to 3,000 as recently as 2008.

“Those [remaining] trees are all in some varying state of infestation and decline,” Sproule said.

About 900 American elm trees are left in town and could be susceptible to Dutch elm disease, he said. Oak Park had roughly 15,000-16,000 of the elms before Dutch elm disease wreaked havoc in the 1950s and ’60s, Sproule said.

He said the total number of trees in the public way fluctuates between 18,000 and 19,000 and that the village still removes slightly more trees every year than it adds. The number removed last year was between 600 and 700, compared to the roughly 550 planted, Sproule said.

Sproule reminded those interested in learning more about Oak Park’s urban forest they can now go on the village’s website and view an interactive map that documents the species of every tree in the village. The new trees will not yet be reflected in the map, though, he said, noting that the village updates the map every couple of months.

Sproule said there is a high desire from residents to learn more about the trees in their area and the map also help village workers keep more accurate records.


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