City officials meet today with DNR about plans

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Gina Duwe
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

— Janesville city officials will meet today with the state Department of Natural Resources as they plan to deal with the arrival of the emerald ash borer on the city's east side.

"The DNR has dealt with this in several counties already," said Rebecca Smith, city administrative management assistant. "We want to hear from them on what their best practices are."

DNR and city officials estimate Janesville has 33,000 ash trees on public and private property.

The city's Shade Tree Advisory Committee created an emergency plan for emerald ash borers in December 2010 and presented it to the city, but the plan has not been accepted or adopted, Smith said.

"We may or may not follow their recommendations," she said.

After infestation, the committee plan calls for:

-- The city to remove dead ash trees on street rights-of-way. The average estimated cost to remove one tree is $340.

-- The city to treat street and park trees that are in good or excellent condition and are 12 inches or more in diameter at breast height. Residents who want to treat ash trees on private property would do so at their own expense.

-- Replacement of ash trees with other species, as the budget permits. A 2.5-inch-diameter tree is estimated to cost $400.

-- Letting infested ash trees die if they are on city property in undeveloped areas.

-- Enforcement of an ordinance that would need to be changed. The city has an ordinance that gives it the authority "to cause treatment or removal of any trees determined to be infected with Dutch elm disease," according to the committee plan. The committee recommended the city enforce an updated ordinance that would be applicable to any disease, insect or other malady that could "cause a tree to endanger the life, health or safety or other trees/shrubs, persons or property located in public areas." Ash trees on private property would be the responsibility of property owners.

The city council likely will have a study session or presentation soon to learn about the disease and establish policies for implementing a plan, Parks Director Tom Presney said.

The advisory committee in 2008 inventoried a sample of the city's 24,835 street trees and found 15 percent of them are ash, he said.

Officials estimate an additional 30,000 ash trees grow in the city on private property and on 2,590 acres of city parkland, he said.

Janesville will be left to decide for itself how to react to its infestation.

The state does not mandate how communities or property owners should respond to the emerald ash borer, said Mick Skwarok, plant pest and disease specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

"It truly is up to the community how they're going to respond—based on local sentiment, local budgets and local ash inventory," he said. "Those are all local decisions to be made."

Many communities have ordinances from the 1960s and 1970s about required removal of dead trees infected by Dutch elm disease on private property, he said. Communities have been updating the ordinances to be broader, he said.

Community response to treating, removing and replacing trees has run the gamut, he said, from doing nothing to holding public meetings to devising plans that have taken months or a year to put in place.

"It's all over the map," he said. "Janesville is ultimately going to decide how this proceeds."

He said he's not aware of any Wisconsin community that has required the private removal of infected trees. In the Minneapolis area, residents are required to cut down infected trees, he said.

"Owners don't get the opportunity to treat them," Skwarok said. "If you don't do it, they'll send someone to cut it down and send you the bill."

The worst thing that could happen is that city officials and residents do nothing, he said. That would mean the pests would continue to spread, and over many years, all the ash trees would disappear.

"I doubt the city will take a do-nothing approach," he said. "I doubt residents will take a do-nothing approach."

Skwarok said residents who have infested trees will have to decide whether they can afford the chemical treatments that could preserve the trees, at least for a time, or they could decide to cut down the trees, cutting off the pests' food supply. It's an economic decision, he said.

Last updated: 8:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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