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A Modest Approach to Killing Trees

I am panicking at the prospect of losing our trees. The urban forest we take for granted is under attack. Bugs from one direction, chain saws from another.

Emerald Ash Borer is moving through. Some ash trees will be hit and die, others will be cut down pre-emptively. It’s a complicated situation further complicated by the realities of money and the City budget.

It costs money to cut trees down. It costs money to treat trees with preventative medicines. It also costs money to clean up the mess of a tree that gets sick and falls down. Of course, there isn’t enough money to go around.

There are three categories of trees:
  1. Trees on private property 
  2. Trees on other city property, like along streets 
  3. Trees in city parks

Private trees

The ash trees in yards are up to us to deal with.

City trees

The ash trees on city streets cannot be adopted. City Forester Marla Eddy says that about 22% of the city's terrace trees are Ash, with a high concentration in older neighborhoods like Tenney-Lapham. Over 40% will be taken down pre-emptively. This is devastating to picture.

The ash trees in the street terraces have been spray painted with yellow dots. On many blocks around me, every single tree has a yellow dot. These trees will be removed within the next 5 years, according to the City’s plan.

Some are being treated with a biannual trunk injection of emamectin benzoate. The September 2013 “City of Madison Emerald Ash Borer Plan Update” calculates a population of 12,719 economically treatable trees, or 58.27% of the total terrace ash population.

Park trees

The trees in parks can be adopted, if they are considered healthy enough. Adopting a tree means paying for its upkeep. The cost is not set, as it must be done by an approved specialist.

Of the thousands of ash trees located within the City’s 260 parks, I was told that “about 15” trees have been adopted. Tenney Park, for example, has 409 ash trees.

At Reynolds Park, where I worked with the Friends group last year to replace the play equipment and improve the playground, there are two mature ash trees. We plan to adopt those trees but have been told we must wait until after the trees have leafed out to determine their health before we can be granted permission.

The Parks General Supervisor emailed me in response to my inquiry: “The overall process of adopting trees can take one or more months. Once the application is submitted, I need to evaluate the tree to determine if it is a good candidate for injections. If so, I get approval from our Parks Planning Department. Once that is determined, we need to know who will be treating the tree so we can issue a permit. After the contractor of your choice makes the insecticide application, they need to send us the post application paperwork. We follow-up by marking the tree as adopted. There are various points along the process that it can get held up, but if all goes well, it can be done fairly timely.”

In the meantime, I panic. Rumors are flying. An email I got today from a neighborhood activist group on the north side of town was cause for alarm: “Starting in Jan 2015, the parks division will hire more arborists” to continue pre-emptively cutting down trees. The Parks General Supervisor assures me that a file has been started for the Reynolds Park ash trees and they won't be cut down.

Trees that fit one of three criteria will be cut down:

  • Tree is structurally compromised or in poor condition 
  • Tree is located under high voltage electrical distribution line 
  • Tree trunk measures less than 10-12” in diameter at 4.5 feet (dbh) from the ground 

The City claims to be taking a modest approach to killing. A friend suggested that if a virus were headed our way, would we start killing people to keep the virus at bay? An extreme analogy, to be sure, but I don’t underestimate the value of the trees for our health and sanity.

In Kenya, Wangari Maathai was alarmed by the deforestation of her country and started planting trees. She began what is now the Green Belt Movement and earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

Julia Butterfly Hill camped out in an ancient redwood tree for 738 days to save it from loggers.

In honor of these women, and the countless, nameless women who have throughout history worked for the betterment of their communities, we need to do all we can to save our trees.

Please contact City Forester Marla Eddy with any questions or concerns.

To connect with neighbors on local efforts to save park trees, email Mary Lang Sollinger or Alder Ledell Zellers.

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