By Craig Sauer
Portage Daily Register
All of the city’s ash trees are expected to fall victim to the emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle native to Asia, which has been responsible for the loss of an estimated 25 million ash trees in the United States, and could eventually wipe out every ash on the continent.
“People need to start planning ahead for this because it will come,” Raimer said of the beetle, which has devastated tree populations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. “It’s going to be a nasty one.”
Last summer, the ash borer was found in northern Illinois, and state officials say their spread into Wisconsin is inevitable.
Saying it is important that the city be proactive, Raimer is backing a Common Council resolution to place a moratorium on planting ash trees in the city as step one. The resolution will be further discussed this week.
After that, Raimer said his department will plan long-term for the likely removal of all of the city’s approximately 1,000 strong ash tree population over a five- to 10-year period.
“People love their trees. It’s a part of their family.” Raimer said. “This is going to make a lot of unhappy people, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. But we are doing it early enough that it wont be such a blow when it does finally hit here.”
The federal government has mandated the removal of all ash trees within a mile radius of any found to be infected, and the state has taken steps to thin the forests in southern Wisconsin while checking for infestations.
“When it does come, we are going to have to do it, so why not spread it out?” Raimer said.
Raimer hopes to avoid a barren-looking Portage by removing the problem trees and planting new ones over a longer period of time, also noting that it makes sense financially.
According to Raimer, city workers can remove about 60 to 100 trees per year and the forestry budget has enough funds to contract for the removal of about five to 20 trees per year. It costs anywhere from $300 to $2,000 per tree for contracting services depending on size and location.
Ash trees identified as in distress or on the decline will be removed over the next year, according to Raimer, while younger trees will be allowed to mature up to a point. He said the city doesn’t want to allow the trees to mature beyond their ability to easily remove them. By state statute, the city forester has authority to inspect and remove any problem trees from private property.
Trees on the boulevards are the city’s responsibility, but the removal of those on private property will come out of the landowners’ pockets.
“If people want to enjoy the trees for a few years, I would say enjoy them, but seriously think about getting rid of them and getting new trees new put in,” said Raimer, who will have to plan for the removal of some ash trees on his own land.
Wisconsin has 700 million ash trees in forests, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the state’s tree population, according to the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Last month forestry workers began cutting ash trees in 30 counties across the state — including Columbia — in hopes of slowing the spread of infestations.
Workers plan to cut about 1,400 ash trees and check for signs of infestation and leave an additional 4,400 trees with a ring of removed bark around the base of the trees to act as bait. Those tree will be taken down next fall and winter and checked for infestation in order to track the ash borer’s advance.
The borer is thought to have entered the United States from China in wood used for shipping via ship or airplane and was first discovered in Detroit in 2002.
Questions about ash trees on your property and what the city is doing to fight the spread of infestation can be directed to Tim Raimer at 742-2178.