Oak Park village forester says trees are not over-pruned

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

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."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Scottie Ash Seed  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 9:54 PM

After I got a better look at the pruning, I must agree with the municipal Arborist that this work is needed 2 get rid of limbs attached with "included bark", unneeded inner branches & individual species flaws. But drastically trimming Ash trees to see when EAB damages them is a total waist since every one is being allowed to succumb to the Borers anyways. As far as how Oak Park handled the extinction event of our indigenous legacy Ash, its a lesson in what NOT 2 do 4 future EAB towns

Scott Carlini  

Posted: June 9th, 2013 11:16 PM

EAB is not a tree disease like Dutch Elm. Oak Park is surrounded on 2 sides from Chicago which has successfully saved their parkway Ash. Doh! Since the EAB will cause our Ash to go extinct in six yrs, people who treated theirs can then stop. OP trims too much on bottom while not trimming dead upper branches off Elms which causes DED simply because Arborist hopes they all die quicker! Double Doh!! Ash has 300-600 yr lifespan and Oak-Elm-Ash IS our local PRAIRIE ecosystem. Time 2 change the coach!

joe from south oak park  

Posted: June 4th, 2013 8:14 AM

I wish the village would prune the tree in front of my house. It's limbs are hanging over the sidewalk and street causing problems for pedestrians and trucks.

I beg to differ  

Posted: May 29th, 2013 10:10 AM

Then why are they having such a hard time leafing out?

Sandra L. from Portland, OR  

Posted: May 29th, 2013 9:10 AM

As the wife of a third generation arborist-logging family, I have to say that the tree pictured is grossly over pruned. Their policy need re-thinking.

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