New sustainability group aims to protect, expand Evanston’s urban forest

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

Evanston TreeKeepers, a new community organization focused on preserving and expanding the local tree population, is launching this week with its first meeting Wednesday night.

TreeKeepers founder Wendy Pollock said the group will work to create a healthy urban forest in Evanston.

Pollock said protection of Evanston’s trees is necessary to save local specimens from the threats they face in an urban environment. She said ash trees in particular are endangered because of the recent appearance of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that eats its way through ash trees. Earlier this year when the emerald ash borer struck thousands of local trees, rotting them from the inside out, Evanston cut down the infected ashes. Evanston TreeKeepers will work to recognize the signs of pests like the emerald ash borer and  mitigate their effects on local trees.

Padma Rao, an outspoken proponent of tree preservation in Evanston, said the city has failed to protect ash trees from this pest in past years, choosing to fell thousands of trees instead of treating them.

“The city of Evanston should have done inexpensive, preventive treatments to protect ash trees several years ago, when we first learned about the problem,” she said.

Rao added that she hopes the group will conduct an inventory of Evanston’s trees and make an effort to protect every single tree.

Evanston TreeKeepers is affiliated with Openlands, a Chicago preservation group with a variety of programs focused on protecting green spaces in the region. The Evanston group stemmed from the efforts of Openlands to promote greenery — specifically trees — in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Pollock first learned about how to properly care for trees when she enrolled in Openlands’ TreeKeepers class, which equips volunteers throughout Chicagoland with skills necessary to maintain urban trees. Pollock underwent this eight-week course to learn about basic tree biology and care.

Pollock noted that many people from the suburbs were enrolled in Openlands’ classes, and that there was a lot of interest in the issue of urban forestry among Evanston residents.

“A lot of people from Evanston have taken our TreeKeepers class in Chicago, so forming a group in Evanston seemed like a natural next step,” said Glenda Daniel, associate director of Openlands.

Daniel and Pollock worked together to create Evanston TreeKeepers. The Evanston chapter will be Openlands’ first effort to move into surrounding suburbs, and Daniel said she hopes that more advocacy groups in other communities will follow suit.

Pollock partnered with Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a local sustainability group, and the city’s forestry division to spread awareness about urban forestry. CGE started a task force focused on preserving natural resources, and hosted several events over the summer to promote discussion of the issue.

Pollock said Evanston TreeKeepers’ official plans will be formalized after their first meeting Wednesday. In general, the group will work to educate the public about tree care and conduct public work days during which members can care for Evanston’s trees. Members of the group would work to prune and mulch the city’s existing trees while also expanding its urban forest.

Rao said she hopes the new group will care for all of Evanston’s trees from the variety of threats they face.

“Ideally, the city should be protecting our urban forest from both man-made threats and natural predators,” Rao said. “It’s something that needs to be done.”