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Aurora to cut 3,000 trees, spend $100,000 on replacements in wake of emerald ash borer

Aurorcity worker RoberRodriguez fires up chainsaw as he prepares remove 100-year-old ash tree infected with emerald ash borers 100 block

Aurora city worker Roberto Rodriguez fires up a chainsaw as he prepares to remove a 100-year-old ash tree infected with emerald ash borers in the 100 block of South Fordham Avenue on Aurora's west side on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:47PM

AURORA — Five years after the first discovery of emerald ash borers on Aurora’s far East Side, officials this month announced plans to ramp up ash tree removal and replacement efforts in 2013.

Conquering the ash borer infestation — and the mass death of ash trees the beetles leave in their wake — is now believed to be a five-year project, said Rosario DeLeon, city chief operations officer.

There are 12,000 to 15,000 ash trees on public ways in Aurora.

“We think we’re two years into it. Hopefully next year, we’ll get over the hump,” DeLeon said.

The city plans to spend $100,000 to plant trees in 2013 in an effort to offset the toll the insects have taken on the city’s tree population. In 2012, the city budgeted $60,000 to plant new trees.

Emerald ash borers destroy a tree’s ability to store water and nutrients, killing the tree from the top down, said Bill Pauley, certified arborist. Evidence that may indicate the presence of emerald ash borers include a dying top portion of a tree, vertical bark splitting, new sprouts at the bottom of the tree, D-shaped exit holes and increased woodpecker damage.

“Ash trees may be infested for a year or more before the first symptoms appear,” Pauley said.

Like other municipalities, the city is removing select ash trees on city-owned property as they exhibit signs of die-back in an effort to mitigate and control the spread of the beetles.

Ash trees located on private property continue to be the responsibility of the property owner or homeowner’s association.

Prior to the beetle infestation, the city removed about 350 trees each year, said Brett Weiler, superintendent of the city’s Street Maintenance Division. But in the past two years, the city has removed a total of 3,000 trees.

In 2013, city crews plan to accelerate the removal process — tearing down an additional 3,000 beetle-infested trees during the year. The city will also purchase a second tree-stump grinder.

“Over the winter months, weather permitting, we’ll continue to remove infested trees,” Weiler said.

About 800 trees are tagged for removal this winter.

DeLeon said the streets department also plans to propose a right-of-way tree stipend program for city approval. Under the program, the city would likely reimburse residents up to $200 when they voluntarily replace an infested tree in the public right-of-way.

“This is a way for us to try to stretch our dollars,” DeLeon said.

The city planted 1,000 replacement trees in 2011 and 1,200 in 2012, Pauley said. The city is replanting a diversified species of trees in an effort to prevent a mass loss of trees again because of infestation or disease.

But 2013’s planting schedule doesn’t call for city crews to replace trees one-for-one.

“In many cases, there was overplanting of trees in the parkways,” he said.

In other areas, trees were planted in inappropriate locations — too close to corners and utility lines.

“Many of the trees on the private side of [a] property now are mature trees themselves,” DeLeon said. “So every tree [torn down]doesn’t need to replaced.”

Even with a plan in place, Weiler said he’s concerned about the city’s tree population moving into 2013.

“I’m very concerned [that] since we had a drought this year that other trees have been stressed. We’re just hoping that they don’t start dying,” Weiler said.

The first confirmation of the emerald ash borer infestation in Aurora was in a tree in a city median on Liberty Street just west of Route 59 in 2008.

Since then, the beetle has continued to spread throughout the city’s ash tree population, but is most prevalent in the city’s far East Side and subdivisions built since the 1970s. Those areas tended to have a denser population of ash trees because they were thought to be hardy and affordable to plant at the time, Pauley said.

Since its discovery, the emerald ash borer spread rapidly in Northern Illinois. As of November, the half-inch long green beetle has been found in 18 states.

Native to Asia, the emerald ash borer was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in Michigan. The insect is believed to have traveled through wood shipping crates as early as the 1990s, Pauley said.

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