By Jared Raney
Over the past several weeks, some Rhinelander residents received a letter from the Parks, Buildings and Grounds Department. The letters informed those residents that a city owned ash tree near their property is slotted for destruction.
These letters are just one part of a city-wide, preemptive strike to remove ash trees before the infamous emerald ash borer can get a hold.
Parks, Buildings and Grounds gave citizens the choice between letting the city take down the trees, at no immediate cost to themselves, or to treat the trees from their own pocket.
The question many have started asking is whether it’s worth it.
According to Tony Gilman, Rhinelander street superintendent, who has been in charge of the removal of ash trees in city boulevards, the average cost to the city for tree removal is $200 per ash tree.
“It’s one of those stories that no matter what, somebody’s not going to be happy about it,” Gilman said. ”You’re talking about taking down trees, and some people are very emotional when it comes to trees, even if it’s for a better cause in the long run.”
In addition to boulevard trees, the city has recently started assessing park trees, such as the many ash trees in Hodag Park, for treatment. Right now, they have targeted 53 city park trees for treatment.
The problem with treatment options is that there is no one-and-done treatment, which means a recurring cost. Self-treatment methods require yearly application, though for a fairly low cost, approximately $20-35 (UW-Extension).
Professional injection treatment methods last three years, but cost significantly, at least 20-25 percent, more in a three year period. The cost varies depending on a plethora of factors, but overall can be hundreds of dollars.
For those within fifteen miles of an infestation, only the injection method is recommended. The injection is 98-99 percent effective, whereas other professional methods fall to 80-85 percent.
Commercial do-it-yourself treatments may be even less.
“You can only save so many trees,” said Ted Foley, owner of Foley’s Tree Service, who is helping assess the parks in Rhinelander. “I am not going to suggest treating a tree, if I look at the structure of that tree, and the overall structural integrity is not great,”
“It may not fail next year or the year after, but if I look in that fifteen to twenty year plan, there’s going to be problems,” Foley said. “So why invest into that tree for ten years, hoping to get it through this EAB infestation, when it may fail in year number twelve.”
Injection treatment targets EAB by sending a chemical through the root system, which eventually stores itself in the foliage of a tree. When female EAB beetles come out to feed on the leaves, they also ingest the chemical.
“So that’s where we want to stop it, when they’re actually eating the leaves. It’s a little bit harder to control the borers once they are in the tree,” Foley said. “Within the next month is where we want to treat, ideally, to get the most successful treatment coverage.”
Research has suggested that after about a ten year period, EAB will eat its way out of a food source, and populations will decrease. Three injection treatments, one every three years, should be enough to help an ash tree weather the EAB storm.
“Another unknown thing that people need to know is that if this infestation comes in and hits your tree, it’s not going to kill it this year and be gone,” Foley said. “It’s going to take two, maybe three years to actually have that tree die off from the infestation.”
But that doesn’t mean treatment can wait. Once EAB has infested a tree, it might already be too late for the tree, even if you can’t see it yet.
“It’s a matter of time, so we’re trying to be proactive instead of reactive,” said Gunder Paulsen, parks director of Rhinelander, about the city’s efforts. “There’s going to be a time where we’re going to be reactive… it’s going to be Armageddon here in five to ten years, there’s going to be [dead] trees everywhere… You don’t want to spend money on a tree that’s not in perfect shape. So anything that’s got any flaws, we take that out [now].”