Bug expected to devastate ash trees in Janesville's natural areas

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, October 19, 2013

JANESVILLE--Many Janesville residents probably aren't aware of the devastation the emerald ash borer will cause in the woods of Rockport Park and in the city's other natural, wooded areas, two people familiar with the park system said.

“There will be a significant loss of trees throughout the undeveloped areas of the park system,” Tom Prensy, parks director, agreed.

“It will only be when they die and they become stark and noticeable compared to the leafed trees that people will notice.

“It's probably going to cause some concern," he said.

Mary Rote, a master gardener, lives near Rockport Park. She doubts many people realize how many trees will be affected and how aesthetically devastating it will be.

When the ash trees die, unattractive scrub trees will take their places, she said.

Rote recently attended a community meeting the city hosted on the invasive species.

Rockport Park is predominantly ash, Rote said. Eight miles of trail wind through the park, and many appreciate the wooded setting.

Attention has been focused on trees in developed areas and on city-owned terraces. The city has opted to treat its mature and well-formed trees in developed areas and is doing an inventory of the number of ash trees on terraces.

Presny said people are rightly concerned about the very visible effects in the community's developed areas.

“But there are these natural areas, undeveloped areas, that are equally appreciated by other parts of community,” Presny said.

Other parks likely to be impacted include the Robert O. Cook Memorial Arboretum and Riverside Park.

There are likely thousands of ash trees in Rockport and Riverside parks alone, he estimated.

Rote fears people are not prepared for the devastation.

She noted ashes are native trees that thrive in moist soil. She said she couldn't even count the number of ash trees along the creek in Rockport Park. People who own land along the river might be surprised at the number of ash there, as well.

 “They're going to die,” she said. “I know that.

“You can't possibly treat a forest.”

The big impact is going to be in areas such as Rockport Park, she said.

Presny agreed.

The park is 250 acres and about 70 percent undeveloped. Ash trees might make up as much as 50 percent of the trees in the park.

“But my feeling is that it wouldn't be in the best interest of the community to be spending money treating those trees,” Presny said.

Presny believes the city is either in its fourth or fifth year of the borer's infestation. More trees will show signs next year, but the number of dead trees will make the effects of the bug dramatically evident in 2015 and 2016, Presny predicted.

Meanwhile, the city continues to finish its inventory of street trees, and Presny said city involvement in treating those trees might be the next discussion.

The city owns the terraces, but residents are responsible for maintaining the trees.

Presny said he would research companies that might harvest ash wood for uses such as lumber and other wood projects, creating revenue for the city.

Replanting will be a focus, as well, he said, noting the city is eligible for 10,000 seedlings each year from the state.

Now, the parks department plants 500 to 1,000 seedlings a year with the help of volunteers, giving priority to greenbelt areas.

“That will probably be stepped up considerably” to replace the trees lost, he said.

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