Almost 6,000 trees in Chippewa Falls were examined for signs of an invasive species in the summer of 2016.
City administration came to an unavoidable conclusion: More than 21 percent of those trees were green ash trees that faced infestation from the emerald ash borer.
Green ash trees make up more than a fifth of the city’s tree inventory, and the common species is under threat from the invasive beetle that’s tightening its grip on Wisconsin counties.
However, the city has found an ally and a partial solution in the Rotary Club of Chippewa Falls.
“Trees provide a lot of sustainable and beautiful things for the community,” said Al Mazorol, Rotary Club president.
Mazorol was joined by several other Rotary Club members and city park employees Wednesday to plant more than 20 hackberry and maple trees in Irvine and Casper parks.
The Rotary Club is on a mission of its own.
In 2018, local chapters have been charged with planting one tree for every member of their chapter. For the Chippewa Falls chapter, that means more than 60 new plantings. Honeylocust, maple, crabapple, hackberry and evergreen trees will ultimately take the place of green ashes.
But the city will be continuing to remove those ash trees from parks, playgrounds and boulevards for years to come, Parks, Recreation and Forestry director Dick Hebert said Wednesday.
About 300 have been removed so far, Hebert said: “There’s a lot more to cut down in the parks.”
But the 2016 inventory revealed 1,200 ash trees that are in danger of infestation, just over 21 percent of the city’s trees.
Ash tree removal began in 2017, and may continue for much longer, Hebert said.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can each year. We’re hoping to get the majority removed in the next five years, but that’s an ambitious goal,” he said.
The beetle was first found in Chippewa County in September 2017 when infestation was reported in the town of Lafayette. In November, the Department of Natural Resources removed the pest from a dying ash tree on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus.
While many southern Wisconsin counties are infested — 48 of 72 counties in total — much of northern Wisconsin has remained free of the invasive species, according to a state emerald ash borer database.
In May, the state also strongly urged campers and bonfire enthusiasts to buy firewood locally, preventing the spread of emerald ash borer and the invasive gypsy moth.
“It’s never a good idea to move firewood,” said Brian Kuhn, director of the state’s Plant Industry Bureau, in a May press release. “In the balance of things, the health of our North Woods – and all the jobs and wildlife that depend on it – is worth spending a few dollars to buy firewood instead of hauling it from home.”
Signs of emerald ash borer activity include D-shaped holes in the tree’s bark, S-shaped patterns on inner bark, cream-colored larvae feeding beneath the bark and green adult beetles a half-inch long found on the tree itself.
Information on identifying and treating emerald ash borer infestation can be found at datcpservices.wisconsin.gov/eab/index.jsp.
Chippewa Falls residents can call the Parks, Recreation and Forestry department at 715-723-0051 to learn about treatment or how to use ash wood if trees are cut down.