Our Views: Yes, treat the trees, but city of Janesville also should hire forestry help

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sometimes, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

How else do you explain last week’s news that just 346 ash trees stand in developed parks in Janesville? Before that inventory, the city had estimated—after consulting with the state Department of Natural Resources and cities of comparable size—that 15,000 ash trees grew on public property in Janesville, half in developed parks. So that rough—let’s call it really rough—estimate of about 7,500 has fallen to 346.

Given that, no one should guess how many ash trees stand on undeveloped parklands.

Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said the city was surprised at how few were in developed parks and that the much smaller number will allow the city to be more proactive in battling the emerald ash borer.

That’s good, of course.

The trouble is, the revised number further validates concerns of alarmed residents who believe the city acted hastily in creating firewood out of 80 ash trees—including some in high-profile Upper Courthouse Park—earlier this year.

The city put $107,000 in its forestry budget this year, and Parks Director Tom Presny told The Gazette last week the city had treated 136 ash trees against the borer. Now, instead of investing in a forester as planned, Presny says the money can be invested in treating the rest of the 346 ash trees on developed parkland.

It makes sense to treat the trees. The city, however, also should invest in a forester. Here’s why.

A memo from Winzenz also says earlier estimates ranged from 3,100 to 7,500 ash trees on terraces—essentially city-owned property but the responsibility of adjacent property owners. A recent drive-by survey lowered that number to 2,000.

Presny says the city has no plans to inventory the trees on undeveloped city property because they’re “out of sight, out of mind.”

City officials knew the ash borer was coming, but until it was detected here last summer the city never inventoried trees as experts recommended. It didn’t hire forestry help. So it was left unprepared, just as it was when Dutch elm disease devastated what was once known as “Bower City” decades ago. Residents have some merit in thinking the city is making missteps in forestry management. We’re not heeding lessons of the past. Will we wait until the next invasive comes along? Perhaps it will be the Asian longhorned beetle, which can kill maples and other hardwoods and is established in some parts of the United States.

Trees are a huge part of the character of this “City of Parks.” They also help conserve energy, retain stormwater, remove carbon dioxide and enhance aesthetics. Despite our sad history, this city still lacks knowledge and expertise needed to deal with today’s serious forestry concerns. A forester could help the city determine how many ash trees it has on undeveloped parkland and perhaps earmark those worth treating. Such an expert also could help diversify our tree stock, work with volunteers and donors, and advise residents as to proper selection and planting locations and which of their own ash trees to save through treatment.

Yes, treat the trees on developed parkland as soon as practical. Yet every month that passes without expertise exposes our urban forest to risks the city isn’t prepared to handle.

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