CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Forestry crews in Cedar Rapids fired up the chain saws Friday in yet another bid to head off future problems with the emerald ash borer.
The destructive insect has killed millions of ash trees in infected states and Canada. The first Iowa appearance of the bug came last May in Allamakee County in the far northeastern part of the state. Cedar Rapids crews removed 160 vulnerable ash trees last winter.
Craig Hanson, Cedar Rapids public works maintenance manager, said the goal this winter is to take down 325 ash trees from public right of ways that are showing signs of disease or stress for other reasons. Those trees would be the first to fall victim to the ash borer when it finally gets to this portion of Iowa. Hanson said the insect will spread naturally at the rate of a half mile to two miles a year. But if someone transports firewood or other green wood with the insect it will cover large distances much quicker. He figures, with luck, the city has five to 10 years at most before the ash borer arrivesand the plan is to not leave the insect as much to munch on as exists right now.
"We'll have about 10,000 (ash) trees left at that point and the trees that will be here will be the most healthy left in which case it progresses slower in those trees and that gives us more time to go through selectively and remove them at that time," Hanson said.
Hanson believes as many as 15,000 ash trees are growing along city streets right now. The pace of removal this winter is one that will continue in coming years.
City forestry crews started work on the southeast side on 31st and 32nd Streets near Mt. Vernon Road. Hanson said the city will follow a pattern of identifying trees to be removed in the summerand do the actually cutting in winter when falling trunks and branches do less damage to frozen yards.
The city has plans in the current fiscal year to plant 600 to 700 trees of a different species to replace the ash trees removed.
Homeowners that have ash trees on the city's right of way will get a notice that crews are coming to remove that tree. John Detweiler had one tree in his yard the city chopped down on Friday. He called it a problem tree that he wanted removed anywayso the news the city was coming for his tree this winter didn't bother him at all.
"I think that's a good idea, I really do and I have no regrets," Detweiler said.
Detweiler also remembers Cedar Rapids in the 1950's and 1960's when Dutch Elm disease destroyed many mature elm trees along city streets. He remembered what a mess it was to clear out large numbers of trees all at once. And he agrees with the city plan to start now on vulnerable trees that are already showing signs of decline.
Hanson said the ash trees on city property coming down this winter are 40 to 50 years of age and fairly large in size. If smaller ash trees are lost to the ash borer when it finally does arrive, that will make the removal process then quicker and easier.