The emerald ash borer is far more widespread in than originally believed, and it’s possible as many as 80 percent of the thousands ash trees in the city are infected, city arborist Jim Teiber said.
Crews have been working their way through the city this summer, taking down the trees that show signs of being the furthest along in terms of infestation. Before the year’s out, up to 200 may be cut down.
But that’s nothing compared to what Teiber expects to see in 2013, the first year dead and dying trees will be visible on a mass scale, he said.
“It’s pretty widespread,” Teiber said. “It’s going to be devastating.”
The difficult thing about the emerald ash borer is it’s almost impossible to detect until the damage has been done. It lays miniscule eggs on the surface of the bark, and the larvae that hatch bore through the outer layer and feed on the interior wood, leaving a pattern of circuitous paths that are visible when the bark is removed.
When they eventually emerge, the adult borer is about the size of a grain of rice and metallic green in color. It leaves a tiny D-shaped exit hole and goes off to mate, whereby the process begins all over again.
The wood they feed on eventually weakens and kills the tree, typically over the course of a few years. The first infestation sign typically is the death of the tree’s top branches; the last – when the tree is in its final throes – are branches that start to shoot out the bottom of its trunk in a last-ditch effort to survive, experts say.
The treatments that are available are expensive and not tremendously effective if the tree is already infected, Teiber said. Joliet will spend somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 attempting save trees this year, but from a financial standpoint it’s more effective to remove trees that are 8 inches in diameter or smaller or much older, such as those you’ll find in the Cathedral Area and on the East Side, he said.
“It pains me to take down any tree, but there’s not much you can do,” Teiber said.
Because ash trees had been inexpensive and hardy – able to thrive in the worst quality of soil and to grow quickly – they became popular to plant along city-owned parkways and in the landscaping of new subdivisions. There are going to be parts of town – such as the neighborhood behind at Essington and Theodore – where every tree might have to be removed, Teiber said.
The city will spend anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 cutting down trees this year, Teiber said. The current contract is with Homer Tree Service and number of trees removed will be dictated by the size of the trees – the larger the tree, the more money it costs to remove, he said.
“There’s no funding to replace trees at this time, although we’re hoping to get some grant money,” Teiber said.
He added that homeowners who want to plant trees in Joliet parkways are free to do so, but they must choose from a list of city-approved species and obtain a permit from the city. However, one bright spot is Teiber might be able to a below-retail price at local nurseries that could make it less expensive for homeowners.
If you’re interested in buying a tree or need a permit, contact Teiber at 815-724-4046 or via the city of Joliet’s Forestry Department site, www.cityofjoliet.info/City-Government/Forestry.htm.