Tree Summit held as Evanston fights emerald ash borer

Amanda Gilbert, Summer Reporter

The Evanston Parks/Forestry Division and the city’s chapter of TreeKeepers co-sponsored a conference Saturday to educate residents about the tree population.

The so-called “Tree Summit” at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., included two panels of speakers, with representatives ranging from city officials to local experts. Joe Stark, director of facilities management at St. Francis Hospital, discussed the medical facility’s tree-planting efforts.

City volunteers and officials have been working to eliminate an invasive pest known as the emerald ash borer. The beetle is infecting many of the city’s trees with Dutch Elm Disease. Nearly 2,000 of Evanston’s 4,000 public ash trees have been removed or are expected to be removed because of the invasive pest. The city announced last month the remaining ash trees will also die.

(Evanston to remove 400 infested ash trees)

Debbie Hillman, farm and food policy strategist, said the pest has been an issue for many trees in the Chicago area over the past year.

“The emerald ash borers are just decimating our urban forests,” Hillman said. “You can see the effects right now.”

At the summit, residents learned about the negative consequences, such as poor air quality, that losing trees can bring to cities, as well as what the next steps are for maintaining Evanston’s tree population.

“This is something that is really needed to gather our collective consciousness and our resources,” Hillman said.

Evanston TreeKeepers was formed a year ago to create an education program for tree care. The group is a part of the larger Openlands organization, which creates TreeKeeper programs in Chicago to improve tree planting in the metropolitan area. She said Evanston TreeKeepers is the first chapter outside of Chicago.

“None of them were in the suburbs, even though Evanston has a ton of tree keepers,” Hillman said. “So now Openlands has realized that they should be expanding to the suburbs.”

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

According to the group, events like the summit are needed because urban trees have a lifespan of about 15 years without special attention from residents. Urban trees are more likely to face challenges, such as invasive pests and climate change, than their rural counterparts.

The summit was a part of the city’s larger initiative to raise $25,000 by the end of September to purchase 100 trees.

— Amanda Gilbert