Ten years ago, one in every seven trees in town was an ash–in some subdivisions, they made up half of the urban canopy. Then an emerald ash borer infestation was discovered in 2002, and within a few years, all 22,000 ash trees in town were either dead or dying. Half were on private property, the other half on city property, including 8,000 lining the streets and 2,000 or more in the parks.
In 2005, voters rejected a $4 million millage to remove the dead trees. At that point, the city developed a “dead and dying tree fund” to pay for the work. Kerry Gray of the forestry department, who oversaw the removal, says it took more than three years and ended up costing $5.6 million. “Most of the money came from the general fund,” says Gray, “a little bit from the parks millage money, and some insurance money.”
With “99.9 percent” of the dead trees gone, the department is now concentrating on replanting. At the rate of about 1,000 trees a year, “we’ve probably planted over 4,000 trees so far,” says Gray. “We’re making good progress, better than we expected. We plant twice a year, spring and fall, and we planted a lot this fall, over 700, because the good weather helped us.” So far, the budget crisis hasn’t slowed the reforestation. “We got $300,000 this year from storm water utilities,” Gray says, “plus $70,000 from Dean Fund, and the Rotary Club buys trees for the parks.” This time around, “we’ve planted tulip trees, buckeyes, burr oaks, black oak, soft white oak,” says Gray. After the environmental catastrophe caused by the ash borer, “We’re all about diversity.”