Our Views: Treat trees now before emerald ash borers kill Janesville's trees

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The roar of a chain saw echoed for blocks through Janesville's east side one day last week as workers felled a large tree in the first block of South Randall Avenue.

The tree had died, likely another victim of emerald ash borers.

Walk this neighborhood, and you'll see dozens of ash trees either dead or dying. Upper limbs stretch leafless toward the sky; often, bunches of leaves have sprouted near or on the trunks in last-ditch struggles for survival.

It's not surprising that this tiny but deadly insect was first detected nearby, in the 1900 block of Eastwood Avenue, in June 2012. A DNR forester guessed the ash borer, which is spreading across the Midwest, likely had invaded Janesville between two and four years earlier.

The borer will punch many more holes in the canopy of a community known as “Bower City” before Dutch elm disease devastated the arbors that created leafy arches over many city streets.

It's good to read, however, that Janesville, now dubbed the “City of Parks,” is forging ahead with efforts to save its most valuable ash trees. Last year, the city dropped about 80 ash trees. It reasoned that the trees were aged, damaged or growing into utility lines. Some residents, however, disagreed. They thought the city was too hasty, particularly in cutting trees in high-profile Upper Courthouse Park.

As Marcia Nelesen reported in Sunday's Gazette, Janesville is treating ash trees in parks and prime spots on other public lands. That smart move started with an inventory last summer. It counted 435 ash trees on city property and more than 2,000 on street terraces, where they're the responsibility of property owners.

The city has certified seven employees to apply insecticide, and last fall workers treated 205 ash trees on public property. Getting its own workers certified slashes the city's costs for treating large trees from several hundred dollars to about $75 apiece. A worker can treat a tree in about 10 minutes, says Cullen Slapak, who took over as parks director after Tom Presny retired in February. Slapak plans to treat 45 more this fall or next spring.

Like the city, many homeowners have taken steps to preserve trees. While ash borer larvae tunnel under the bark of untreated trees and choke the life out of them, researchers believe treating trees slows their spread. Experts also are improving treatment methods and reducing costs. Slapak encourages people who haven't done so to consider treating their ash trees this fall or next spring. If more than 40 percent of the canopy has died, however, it's already too late.

Trees are a large part of Janesville's character. They provide shade and help conserve energy. They retain stormwater, remove carbon dioxide and enhance aesthetics. Properly placed, they add to a home's value.

That's why, if you must cut down one or more ash trees on your property, you should consider replacing them. Experts recommend staying away from maples because the city already has plenty. Its many maples might leave Janesville vulnerable to the Asian longhorned beetle, which is killing maples and other hardwoods in parts of the United States.

It was also good to read that the city is doing its part to replace trees. Crews have planted hundreds of hardwood seedlings obtained free from the state Department of Natural Resources. Workers also used an Urban Forestry Grant to plant 106 trees this year. Slapak plans to seek another grant for 2015.

If the city and private property owners continue to save as many ash trees as possible, and replace those that die with a better mix of trees, they'll do much to enhance our urban forest and keep Janesville green and growing.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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