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No ‘Happy New Year’ for ash trees in St. Paul

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

The spread of emerald ash borer means that Como, Hamline-Midway, and Frogtown are among neighborhoods where trees will come down this year.

Tree removal in Highland neighborhood, which is losing more than 250 trees, is to start first the week of Jan. 8. That launches a three to four-month process around the city. Work in other neighborhoods is set for later. Neighbors will be notified before trees come down. Tree replacement will take place in the spring and fall.

A concentration of trees in the Pierce Butler Rte.-Hewitt-Taylor area will come down, east of the Hamline University campus. Stretches of LaFond Ave. in Hamline-Midway and Frogtown will lose trees, as will part of Stinson St. in the North End and Fisk St. in Frogtown.

Image left: stock image

The Como neighborhood will also lose many trees, especially along a stretch of Alameda St. between Maryland Ave. and Wheelock Pkwy., and on Maywood St. between Wheelock Pkwy. and Cottage Ave. Look for trees to come down along Nebraska and Arlington avenues as well.

During discussion of the 2018 city budget, St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm expressed concern about the rapid pace at which the insects are spreading and killing trees. The city has been able to get grants in the past, Hahm said, but as the insects have spread statewide, that funding is harder to obtain.

The city’s structured removal program in the past has focused on areas where there were concentrations of ash trees. Ash trees in decline, due to branch or root injuries, wind damage or other structural defects, were targeted for removal.

Because the borers continue to spread and affect trees throughout the city, the 2018 program will focus only on confirmed infested trees. Those trees were found during 2017 surveys of trees citywide.

Hahm said Park and Recreation’s goal is to have ash tree removal completed by 2025. Parks forestry staff hopes to remove 1,613 boulevard tree removals and 579 parks trees in 2018. About 1,350 trees were removed in 2017.

How the city funds ash tree removal has changed for 2018 and future years. The costs were covered by the city’s street right-of-way maintenance assessments. Those have been moved back to the property tax levy now that the assessments were deemed improper by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court decision and the city’s need to cover costs for 2017 meant that an additional $517,155 that was earmarked for tree removal last year had to go to other right-of-way costs. That would have allowed for more than 1,600 trees to be removed last year.

Outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman’s 2018 budget calls for $1.7 million in resources, to step up the removal of trees in city parks as well as along boulevards. The ongoing spending for trees along city streets is $892,000, with a one-time added allocation of $798,000. The destructive insects are expected to destroy all the city’s ash trees over time.

Since 2010 St. Paul has used a “structured removal” program to cut down ash trees on boulevards and in city parks, to strategically reduce the number of ash trees citywide. Trees are replaced with other species. Emerald ash borer causes ash trees to decline and become brittle. Branches can easily fall and cause injuries to people or property damage.

Emerald ash borers were found in the city about a decade ago. The insects, which bore under an ash tree’s bark and feed on the tree’s circulatory system to the point where the tree dies, have spread throughout St. Paul. They affect all species of ash trees. The city in recent years has done some targeted tree treatment and allows property owners to treat their ash boulevard trees if they obtain permits to do so. But there has been ongoing debate as to whether treatment is a long-term, cost-effective solution. The city only treats ash trees that are between 10 to 20 inches diameter at breast height, in good health with no known defects and in areas where there are no conflicts with utility wires, street lights or street clearance.

Want to see the status of your block’s boulevard ash trees? The city has an interactive map showing trees to be treated and trees to come down. The map can be enlarged to better find streets. Go to www.stpaul.gov/departments/parks-recreation/natural-resources/forestry/emerald-ash-borer.

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