An initiative is underway to replace some of the trees that have been lost in the community to disease and storm damage, but the project will require the collaboration of local residents.
By means of a large donation from the McArthur Foundation, the non-profit conservation organization Openlands is moving forward with a plan to plant 5,000 trees within the city of Chicago over the next couple of years. The Chicago Community Tree Planting Program will begin this spring in neighborhoods across the city, including Beverly, which is among the areas hardest hit by infestation of the emerald ash borer, said Openlands Regional Forester Daniela Pereira.
According to Pereira, the city loses an average of 10,000 street trees per year due to pests, disease, age and damage from cars and storms. The loss of trees in recent years has nearly doubled, Pereira said, due to infestation of the emerald ash borer, a green beetle native to Asia that destroys ash trees by feasting on the foliage, bark and inner wood.
Prior to infestation, ash trees comprised approximately 17 percent of the tree canopy in Chicago, with approximately 95,000 ash trees on public land and another 500,000 ash trees on private property, according to a spokesperson from the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.
Many of the ash trees were planted in the city following the widespread loss of trees to Dutch elm disease in the 1960s and ’70s, Pereira said. Of the five types of species planted to replace elms, two were ash, she said.
Crews began treating ash trees with pesticide since the first beetle was discovered at 29th and State streets in June 2008, and the city imposed a ban on the planting of ash trees in the public way. However, Pereira said, many trees have already died or have been taken down as a preventive measure.
“When ash dies, it becomes really brittle,” she said, “so it becomes a huge liability.”
Although the Chicago Park District has a plan to replace many of the trees lost in parks, Pereira said, due to budget cuts, the Department of Forestry no longer has the manpower to plant the trees. That’s where Openlands steps in, she said.
A 50-year-old organization that protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois, Openlands has been instrumental for the past 23 years in running the popular Treekeepers program, which educates citizen arborists in the care and planting of trees.
“Openlands said, ‘We have all these amazing volunteers; why don’t we take over the tree planting?’” Pereira said. “We work with the community to dig the hole, plant the tree and then watch it closely to protect it from drought.”
But, officials said, certain requirements must be met before planting can begin.
According to Kathleen Tobin of Keeping Beverly Green, a local organization that is working to implement the tree-planting program, the biggest component of the program is community involvement. In order to qualify, a minimum of 20 trees must be requested for a general location, which would include parkways, vacant lots and parks. Neighbors are encouraged to communicate with one another to identify an area that is in need of trees.
Once a site is determined, representatives from each address will be required to be available on planting day, with a minimum of one volunteer per tree. Finally, once the trees are planted, they require 15 gallons of water once a week from April through October for three years.
Although there is no cost for the trees, officials with Openlands are encouraging communities that are able to participate in cost-sharing to donate $100 per tree to help keep the program sustainable.
Groups or individuals that are interested in trees for public property may request a tree by contacting Tobin at email@example.com or at (773) 445-8560.
Once the requests are received, officials from Openlands will visit the site for an inspection to determine feasibility and species selection.
According to Pereira, trees have been selected based on their appropriateness for planting in street parkways in an urban environment and will be obtained from a certified nursery.
“It could be as extravagant as a swamp white oak,” Pereira said. “We have learned to diversify, so we are looking at a wide variety of species, including gingko, Ohio buckeye, horse chestnuts and redbuds. If it’s a cost-share, we allow people to pick the trees they want.”
Residents may also contact Openlands directly, Pereira said, to request trees or to receive additional information on the tree-planting program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re trying to create corridors of trees to encourage people to go outside,” Pereira said. “When people think of trees, they think of shade, birds, wildlife and kids playing. Trees offer a place for people to congregate and a way for them to connect with the outdoors.”