Six towns get funds to fight ash borer

By:  Bob Rakow
Southtown Star

Six Southland towns have received federal funding to replace trees infested by the emerald ash borer.

The largest of the grants, which had to be matched locally, went to Oak Lawn, which will use the $30,000 it received to plant 67 trees throughout the village.

“It’s a lot of money, absolutely,” said Heather Green, Oak Lawn’s forester. “This grant will help us tremendously. It’s huge as far as trees go. I’ve never gotten a grant this big.”

Evergreen Park, Homewood, Park Forest and Matteson each received $10,000 grants. Midlothian was awarded $7,500.

The towns will use the money to plant a combined 400 trees. More than 600 ash trees will be removed, but the grant money does not pay for that work.

The grant amounts were based on town populations. The Chicago Park District received $40,000, the largest grant awarded.

Fifty-eight Illinois communities received a total of more than $1 million. More than 150 communities applied for the grants.

The emerald ash borer is a bright green beetle that kills ash trees by burrowing into their bark and destroying the trees’ ability to bring water from the roots to upper branches. Infected trees usually begin to die within two to three years.

Oak Lawn has inspected ash trees every year since 2002 but has not discovered the emerald ash borer, Green said. But she is confident in her belief that Oak Lawn trees are infested.

“We know the beetle is in all corners of our town,” Green said.

The village wants to remove ash trees before they become visibly unhealthy, she said.

The ash borer can only move short distances on its own but can spread hundreds of miles when people transport firewood and nursery trees without knowing the wood is infested, according to the Nature Conservancy, a leading conservation organization.

“If (Oak Lawn) has them, it’s naive to think that we don’t,” said Gavin Yeaman, Evergreen Park’s arborist and director of quality control.

Evergreen Park plans to remove some 200 ash trees and replace them with 10 species of trees, which will be planted in parkways and parks, Yeaman said.

The grant will pay for about 100 trees.

“This is a first for us,” Yeaman said.

Communities that received funding have committed local matches totaling more than $2.4 million.

“Around 20 percent of the trees in Chicago are ash trees, and as the infestation rapidly spreads, communities across the region are struggling with the costs associated with combating this destructive beetle. Many communities have tens of thousands of ash trees at risk,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.), who secured the funding.