Ash borer makes tree removal part of typical Cedar Rapids winter

Strategy involves selected removal, not 'clear-cutting'

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March 29, 2014 | 2:02 am

Itís part of the cityís winter landscape now.

City forestry crews on Monday began their winter ash tree removal effort, a program in its fifth year and designed to take down old, declining ash trees in the cityís right of way along city streets and replace them with a mix of other tree species.

Ash trees taken down now will mean fewer to take down once the ash killer, the emerald ash borer, shows itself in the city.

Todd Fagan, Cedar Rapidsí city arborist, on Monday estimated that 18 to 30 percent or 12,000 to 20,000 of the trees in the cityís right of way are ashes.

The cityís proactive removal program, which started in 2010, has removed and replaced between 1,000 and 1,200 ashes with the plan in the next three months to take down up to another 200.

Craig Hanson, the cityís public works maintenance manager, on Monday said the cityís number of ash trees in the city right of way probably peaked a decade ago after the emerald ash borer first starting killing ash trees in the Detroit area and the city stopped planting ash trees here. Hanson estimated that the city today has 2,500 fewer ash trees in its right of way than it had a decade ago because of trees taken down from storms and those taken down with the cityís ash removal program.

Fagan said he believes that the killer ash borer has arrived in Cedar Rapids now, but it so far has eluded discovery, which is typical of the insectís arrival in a community.

In recent months, the killer insect has been found in Mechanicsville in Cedar County, just east of Cedar Rapids and Linn County, and in Creston, southwest of Des Moines. Previously, it was found in two spots in Allamakee County in far northeast Iowa and in Burlington and Fairfield in southeast Iowa.

"Itís all around us," Fagan said. "So to think thereís no way itís not in Cedar Rapids is not really a responsible way to go about things. Ö But thereís no reason to lose our cool."

He said the city has sent two letters to property owners with ash trees on the list of about 200 slated to come down in the next three months. The trees are ones that have been identified by Fagan and his staff as ones in decline or damaged in previous storms or have been identified by property owners who have asked that a tree be removed and replaced.

Homeowners can still object to the removal of a tree at the time the city crews show up to take it down if the tree is not deemed unstable and unsafe, Fagan said.

He said the current proactive pace of ash removals will remain the same for now, but he said the pace almost surely will accelerate once the ash borer is found in the city.

"When that happens, itís not going to be our choice," Fagan said. "When that happens, you get about a year, then you canít keep up with it anymore."

At that point, he suspected the city might have to add staff or hire contractors to help take down ash trees.

He estimated the cityís cost to take down an ash tree and remove the stump at about $500 and the cost to replace the tree with another one at about $200.

On Monday, the cityís Hanson was out on Pine View Drive NE as city crews took down a few ash trees there.

"Weíre not clear-cutting trees," he said.

In previous years, city crews have taken other ash trees from the street, and the diverse mix of new trees now planted there means the street, which has had a high percentage of ashes, wonít be without trees if the ash borer strikes, Hanson said.

The city replaced many of the elm trees decimated by Dutch elm disease 40 or more years ago with ash trees. The aim now is for the city not to have more than 10 percent of its right of way trees be comprised of any one species of tree, Hanson said.

Residents who would like their ash tree inspected by the city are encouraged to call 286-5802 or email the city at street@cedar-rapids.org.

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