Invasive beetles destroy more than 500 Evanston trees

Daniel Schlessinger

A beetle invasion is destroying more than 75 percent of the 4,000 ash trees that populate Evanston, but current fundraising efforts are not generating enough money to replace those trees, city officials said.

The city’s forestry department confirmed the emerald ash borers arrived in Evanston the summer of 2006, said Paul D’Agostino, Evanston superintendent of parks, foresty and facilities management. Since then, the infestation has grown too large to ignore.

Emerald ash borers are beetles that lay eggs in the crevices of ash trees, D’Agostino said. The larvae grow by feeding on the inner bark and then slowly tunnel through the tree centers. After two to three years, an infested ash tree dies, its structure too compromised to allow for sufficient transportation of water and nutrients.

By that point, the trees must be removed, D’Agostino said.

“In a storm, a dead tree is much more likely to fall over than a live tree,” he said. “Ash trees can get up to 60 or 70 feet. The trees would die and become a liability.”

Evanston established a reforestation fund in 2011, but the money is “nowhere near close” to the amount of money required to replace the trees, D’Agostino said. The Evanston Forestry Division’s general budget for tree purchases is $80,000, but a good portion of that will go toward other spring planting, he said.

Each ash tree costs about $500 to purchase and plant, D’Agostino added.

Mayre Press, an Evanston resident and environmental freelance writer, said she was saddened when the city cut 33 trees near her block.

“When a tree is gone, it’s gone forever,” Press said. “They’re part of what makes Evanston a beautiful place to live. It’s really sad.”

There were no feasible alternatives to cutting the trees, D’Agostino said. One chemical agent seemed promising but did not prove useful in the long term, he added.

Communication junior Madaline Goldstein, president of Environmental Campus Outreach, said she would like to see the trees replenished.

“It would be great if they could replace the trees with healthy ones, because color and green space is great,” Goldstein said. “Trees are expensive, so it would be hard to replace them, but even some sort of shrubbery or anything even low maintenance would be good.”

D’Agostino said the infestation is likely to stay.

“We’re always looking for this insect, so I can’t predict when (the tree cutting) will stop,” D’Agostino said. “I don’t see an end to it.”

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