In most cities, procedures are in place to plant new trees, not remove old ones. But in the Lake County area near Chicago, an infestation of tiny green beetles is making mass tree removal necessary, according to local officials.
The emerald ash borer is so aggressive a pest that the suburb of Highland Park was forced to remove about 1,000 ash trees in 2014, and expects to remove up to 1,400 more in 2015. The budget for tree removal in the city has been accordingly raised from $150,000 to $173,000 for the coming year.
The problem is even greater in the city of Lake Forest, where the local council recently voted to add an additional $160,000 in funding to the $200,000 already set aside for fighting the pest. Of the 7,000 ash trees that once lined the city’s streets, only 650 will be left untouched, the Chicago Tribune reported Feb. 6.
Experts say that once trees are infested by the borer, there’s really no option except to cut them down. Swift removal is the standard protocol, and there’s extra pressure to work quickly because winter is the best time of year to remove trees.
Highland Park foresters are injecting chemicals into a limited number of trees in an attempt to preserve them, but the problem is new enough that not much research has been done.
Officials across Lake County have said the infestation highlights the importance of planting a diverse tree base in the future so that the arrival of a single species won’t wipe out such a large portion of the area’s total tree population.
The borer, which is originally from Asia, first became a problem in the United States in 2002. It has plagued the Chicago area since 2011.
“It is a shame that we have to cut down these trees,” Ted Baker, parks director of Highland Park, told the Chicago Tribune Feb. 17. “I got into this business because I have a love of the outdoors. The park district is about maintaining [the] outdoors, and it is frustrating.”