Ash removal

La Crosse city employee Steve Lawrence cuts up an ash tree threatened by the emerald ash borer along Market Street in La Crosse in this photo from September 2015. As the pest threatens to move closer to Chippewa County, cities such as Chippewa Falls are taking steps to prepare.

PETER THOMSON, Lee Newspapers

With cases of the emerald ash borer looming closer to Chippewa County, the Chippewa Falls parks, recreation and forestry department is putting measures into place to protect its trees.

Joe Wedemeyer, an arborist and parks staff member, said it is important to be proactive now rather than waiting until the pest arrives.

“It’s not a question of if, but when it gets here,” Wedemeyer said.

For that reason, the city’s parks and street departments are working together to thin healthy ash trees and remove unhealthy, immature ones that are on public property.

The cities of Chippewa Falls and Bloomer received a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that serves two purposes: 1) It sent a surveyor into the community to identify how many ash trees are in each city, where they are located and the general number of tree species in each city, and 2) to help the county create an emerald ash borer readiness response plan.

Bluestem Forestry Consulting Inc. completed the surveying.

The emerald ash borer is a beetle that feeds on ash trees and destroys them.

According to Wisconsin’s Emerald Ash Borer Resource Guide, the eastern-Asia native insect was first discovered in North America in Michigan in 2002. It was discovered in Wisconsin in 2008 and is now in over 40 counties in the state, the closest being Trempealeau and La Crosse counties.

The bug is believed to be transferred by trains, cars and trucks as well as firewood.

“We need to be proactive and start thinning ash trees,” Dick Hebert, Chippewa Falls’ parks director said.

Hebert said communities that are infected with the pest have their wood quarantined to diminish spreading as much as possible.

Hebert said city residents might see the parks and street staff out cutting down or trimming trees, but they don’t often have time to notify the public before doing so.

“We have a narrow window when both departments have time to do forestry work,” Hebert said. “We don’t want to cut trees down, but it’s a safety issue most of the time.”

That window runs from mid-January through early April, and falls among snow removal duties and other responsibilities the workers have. Usually, they don’t have time to prepare in advance or let residents know, but Wedemeyer said they try to knock on neighbors’ doors to inform them.

In addition to the ash trees, Wedemeyer said they will remove trees that are dying, decaying or pose a safety hazard to the public. All the trees they are working on are boulevard-approved or public trees.

When Bluestem’s surveyor looked at the trees, Wedemeyer said she rated each tree (regardless of species) on a scale of very poor to excellent. He is using those results to help determine which trees to cut down, with the highest priority currently being in downtown Chippewa Falls up through the west hill.

While the emerald ash borer has not arrived in Chippewa County yet, Hebert said it is only a matter of time.

“People who don’t know anything about this are about to learn more than they want to know,” Hebert said.

Bluestem will be giving a presentation to the Parks Board at its Tuesday, March 14, meeting. After that, Hebert hopes the city council will see the same presentation.

Then it will be up to the city to decide how it wants to deal with the pest. The options are to have trees injected with a special treatment or lose them.

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