CHAMPAIGN — As the invasive emerald ash borer continues to eat away at the country's trees, city officials are stepping up tree removal efforts to stay ahead of the beetle.
Public works Director Dennis Schmidt and John Karduck, the city's lead arborist, told city council members on Tuesday that there's a chance the city could lose nearly all of its 1,994 ash trees on public property and even more in parks and on private property.
The city has budgeted $270,000 during the next four years to battle the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle native to Asia and Russia and which has been spreading through the United States since at least 2002. It has already killed 20 million ash trees in numerous states, and it was first confirmed in the city of Champaign last year.
In Illinois, 41 counties are in the state's quarantine zone, where moving ash products is very limited.
The majority of the city's four-year, $270,000 budget is for tree removal and, where they can be planted, new trees where the doomed ashes once grew. That amount, Schmidt said, is not enough to remove all of the city's ash trees should officials some day need to do that.
Nearly 10 percent of trees on city property are ash trees, and of those, 205 have been rated in poor condition or worse — though not necessarily infested by the emerald ash borer. City officials plan to remove all of those trees.
Schmidt called it a "measured strategy" in staying ahead of the bug, instead of waiting for the trees to die and trying to catch up later.
"We want to stay ahead of this thing so we don't end up like a lot of communities where they've got hundreds of trees that need to be removed," Schmidt said.
Arborists learned from Dutch elm disease of the 1950s and 1960s, when Champaign lost about a third of all its trees. Since then, arborists have been careful to plant a more diverse population of trees, Karduck said.
Ash trees have not been planted on city property since 2006, and the city has not been responding to requests to prune ash trees outside of crews' normal pruning rotation. To this point, the city also has not treated ash trees with chemicals to deter the invasive beetle.
That will change in the future — city officials now plan to treat up to 40 ash trees in an attempt to save a few from the bug. Schmidt said he thinks "it's worth a try."
Tuesday's presentation to the city council was to inform representatives of some of those revisions the city is making to its emerald ash borer plan that has been in place for years. One of the goals is to spread out the monetary and labor burden. If city officials treat and remove trees before they are infected and continually reinspect the remaining trees, they can avoid getting in financial trouble with hundreds of infected trees later.
"We've got to do something," said council member Vic McIntosh. "We can't just sit here."
Dead trees can be a public safety hazard. Karduck said residents are afraid to drive down their streets in other cities where limbs are literally falling off the trees.
"We're trying to remain proactive," Karduck said.