BLOOMINGTON — Beneath the bark of many of the city’s ash trees are intricately carved serpentine patterns that parks superintendent Bob Moews calls "organized chaos."
The “galleries” are created by the emerald ash borers (EAB) that cut nutrients to the ash trees they colonize.
First confirmed in McLean County in 2008, EAB remains a concern for the city, which has about 2,000 green and white ash still on its list of trees in need of treatment or removal, and replacement.
It’s a big job, but this year the city will get help from a Forever Green Illinois program run by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The pilot is designed to help communities remove and replace problem trees on public rights of way, including trees affected by EAB or other pests and those causing infrastructure problems.
The $750,000 program will assist municipalities in up to seven counties, including Cook, DeKalb, McLean, McDonough, Sangamon, Jefferson and St. Clair, said Warren Goetsch, bureau chief of environmental programs with the Department of Agriculture.
The Bloomington City Council approved an agreement with the state earlier this week and parks, recreation and cultural arts director John Kennedy said the city soon will submit a list of up to 150 trees to be included in the Forever Green program.
The city will use the program that uses outside contractors to focus on trees affected by EAB because the city already has a detailed inventory and rating system for the most critical ones, said Kennedy.
Several invasive species have affected trees, including the Asian longhorn beetle, Dutch elm disease and now emerald ash borer.
“I think the take-home message from those impacts was that we need to have a more diversified canopy. We need to have a larger range of trees and shrubs in our communities, rather than just a mono-culture,” Goetsch said.
Fast-growing, hardy, inexpensive and easy to transplant, ash trees once were popular for new developments because mature trees are a selling point for home buyers, Moews said. He said developers in one subdivision used ash trees for about 60 percent of what would become the public right of way.
Now, the city’s charged with managing those trees. When the city does the planting, it tries to avoid using one-tree species any more than 15 to 20 percent of the time, said city forester Steve Connor.
Kennedy said the city was selected for the pilot program in part because of its longtime Tree City USA status — a designation from the Arbor Day Foundation awarded to cities with a forestry department, tree care ordinance, a community forestry plan and an Arbor Day observance.
Kennedy said the city’s commitment to trees is far more than an aesthetics issue: Trees create energy savings by shading homes, provide habitat for wildlife and give off oxygen.
The exact timing for tree removal and replacement has not been set, but the city will send a letter notifying residents of any chosen parkway trees and ask them to choose a replacement from a list of approved varieties.
In attempts to stop the spread of EAB, there are restrictions on moving ash logs out of the county, but Moews said ash is a hard wood that has proven ideal for use in some park amenities, including benches around Miller Park Lake and dugout shelters in McGraw Park. Otherwise, removed ash trees are sent to the chipper.
Not all ash trees meet their final end from EAB. The city treated about 177 trees last year with a chemical that the emerald ash borers ingest, then die; at a cost of about $50 per tree, per year, the city can only save the least damaged trees that way, Moews said.