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Aurora trees felled as ash borer spreads

AurorCity worker Rob Townsend gets ready put tree inshredder after it was cut down due Emerald Ash Borer Beetles Thursday

Aurora City worker Rob Townsend gets ready to put a tree into a shredder after it was cut down due to the Emerald Ash Borer Beetles on Thursday, June 15, 2011. Alomst the entire median along east New York Street between Route 59 and Commonds drive has been cleared because the trees were infested with the beetles. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 16, 2011 12:27AM

AURORA — Every morning Mike Fitzpatrick walks through his tree-filled neighborhood, relishing the shade. Lush, green trees line Charleston Drive, just off of Indian Trail, where he has lived for decades.

In recent weeks, however, his view hasn’t looked quite the same.

Emerald ash borers have taken over Fitzpatrick’s neighborhood. The beetle only attacks ash trees, burrowing tunnels underneath the bark and cutting off the flow of nutrients.

“All of a sudden, all of these trees started to lose their leaves,” he said as he walked through his neighborhood. “In two weeks this tree went from full to totally bare. In a week and a half that tree over there will go from full bloom to a piece of crap, and the owners have no idea.”

According to Aurora spokesman Kevin Stahr, it isn’t just Fitzpatrick’s neighborhood that is seeing infestation. Many other towns in the Chicagoland area are dealing with similar problems, Stahr said.

Earlier this month, Yorkville reported that the bug has spread to a second subdivision. Naperville reported an outbreak on the city’s south side in April, and Joliet has plans to cut down 300 trees.

Since Jan. 1, Aurora has cut down more than 300 trees on public property. That doesn’t include trees that residents have removed themselves due to infestation.

Stahr said trees on private property are the owner’s responsibility. The city encourages residents to work with companies that are licensed and insured, and that have an arborist on staff certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.

Trees located in a parkway — the land between the sidewalk and the street — are considered public property and are the city’s responsibility, Stahr said.

Fitzpatrick’s neighbor had one of these parkway trees removed on Tuesday from outside his home.

“That was his shade,” Fitzpatrick said. “And now it’s gone.”

In an effort to save the 30-year-old ash trees, Fitzpatrick has taken to the street on a mission. Fitzpatrick is eager to share his knowledge, letting neighbors know about the infestation and the warning signs leading to a tree’s demise.

“I walk every day, so when I see people out I try and keep them informed,” he said. “I’d put fliers on their doors if the city would let me.”

Replanting on city’s radar

A $40,000 grant has been provided to the city by the Morton Arboretum and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus specifically for purchasing and planting replacement trees. Still, Stahr said, it is impossible to replace every tree. The rate of trees being cut down is far faster than the ability to plant new ones.

When new trees are planted, however, city officials will make sure they are of a diverse variety. This will prevent a similar infestation should another type of tree become a target.

The ash trees were planted in droves during the 1970s because of their low cost and sustainability, Stahr said. Because of this, city officials are seeing more emerald ash borer infestation on the city’s older far East Side.

“Ash trees are a lot more dense on the outer area of the city,” Stahr said. “Back when they were planted, though, the emerald ash borer wasn’t a problem.”

The first Aurora ash borer infestation was recorded in November 2008. Today, sightings are more common, and Fitzpatrick has his eyes peeled.

“If you see a lot of cardinals or woodpeckers around your trees, you know you have problems,” he said.

Other signs of infestation include canopy dying back and sprouting (leaves or branches) near the base of the tree. Insecticides can be used to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer, but have not been proven 100 percent effective. Fitzpatrick has taken his chances, spending more than $80 this summer to protect his trees.

“Imagine this parkway without trees. It would look like a whole new subdivision,” he said. “It would be awful to lose them.”

Stahr said the city spends $60 to remove a tree with a 3-inch diameter base, and up to $2,200 to remove a tree with a base between 48 and 60 inches wide.

“The city’s street division has a budget each year that they work with, and we’re still well within budget at this point,” he said. “It’s obviously not a preferred situation. Nobody wants to chop down trees, but it is a reality. We’re trying to limit the spread of the bug as much as possible.”

Residents can report infested trees by calling the city’s customer service line at 630-256-INFO. More information about the emerald ash borer can be found on the city’s website, or at

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