Imagine you have a mouse problem in your house. For every one mouse you successfully get rid of, 11 more crop up in its place.
That is the situation the Algonquin Parks and Forestry Department is facing when it comes to the emerald ash borer, a tree-killing green beetle native to Asia.
This year the village will spend $90,000 to replace 800 ash trees the pest has ravaged.
The infestation is increasing so dramatically that Parks Superintendent Steve Ludwig believes that it will not be long until all 3,500 of Algonquin’s ash trees fall prey to the beetle.
“This is really a natural disaster,” Ludwig said.
So what is the emerald ash borer exactly?
It is an invasive beetle that destroys ash trees by feeding on the inside bark of the tree, which disrupts the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients.
About one in five trees in Algonquin is an ash tree, although the percentage was larger before the infestations started.
The emerald ash borer arrived in 2008, and 70 ash trees were replaced that year. Since then, the Parks Department has replaced 1,200 ash trees.
“This problem is not going to go away,” Ludwig said. “The ash is no longer a viable species in North America. It (the infestation) multiplies exponentially every year.”
To combat the emerald ash borer, the village’s Parks and Forestry Department has been removing and replacing contaminated trees. They are replacing trees at a 1:1 ratio using only in-house staff to cut costs.
Using funding from a reforestation fund created by local developers and a $20,000 grant from the Metro Mayor’s Caucus, the department has added another chipper unit and has replaced its old stump grinder with a larger model that will pay for itself in a year and a half through saved labor costs, Ludwig said.
While the problem is being managed, Ludwig does not believe that current methods will always work moving forward.
“Sooner or later, this critter is going to outpace us.” Ludwig said.
Instead, Ludwig believes that the long-term strategy to prevent the loss of large numbers of trees is to diversify the tree population. To do so, the trees replacing the ash trees are made up of a wide variety of tree species, including such varieties as the horse chestnut tree and the Kentucky coffee tree.
The best thing residents can do, Ludwig said, is to educate themselves about the problem as it relates to their personal trees and determine how they are going to deal with ash trees on their residential properties.
The village is replacing only parkway/village-owned trees. Ludwig said everything is being done with in-house staff, which is reducing costs considerably, but it also takes more time.
To read more about the emerald ash borer, the Public Works department has created a FAQ guide to provide more information on the problem and related policies.