JEFFERSON PARK — Nearly 400 ash trees in the 45th Ward have fallen victim to the emerald ash borer and have or will be removed, city officials said.
Since November, 145 trees in the 45th Ward have met the business end of a chain saw, with another 250 slated to be chopped down this spring and summer, said Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, which includes the Bureau of Forestry.
Another 13 trees need to be inspected, Poppe added.
"It is going to take years for us to work through the devastation caused by this insect," Ald. John Arena said, adding that almost every ash tree in the ward, which includes Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and Gladstone Park as well as parts of Portage Park and Old Irving Park, could be infected.
DNAinfo's Heather Cherone talks about the emerald ash borer's effect on the Northwest Side:
The bug eats trees from the inside out, leaving them brittle and unsteady. That threatens homes and power lines with dead tree limbs, which are easily blown around during severe weather, Arena said.
"Even if a tree looks well, the ash borer is likely killing the tree and creating a hazard," Arena said.
Another 430 trees in the ward have or will be removed due to storm damage or for other reasons, Poppe said.
Trees that have been infested by the ash borer have thin, yellow leaves, elephant skin-like bark and dead branches at their crown, officials said.
John Friedmann, the founder of the Save Your Ash Coalition, said he was not surprised to hear that so many trees in the 45th Ward are too damaged by the emerald ash borer to be saved.
"In many cases, we have simply run out of time to save many trees," Friedmann said.
Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff, said the 45th Ward office had been inundated with complaints about city crews chopping down seemingly healthy trees.
"This will really decimate our urban forest," Brugh said. "It is a shame."
The trees, beloved by many residents for their wide crowns, not only provide cooling shade, but also intercept stormwater and filter airborne pollutants.
The roughly 85,000 ash trees lining Chicago's streets and sidewalks make up about 17 percent of trees on city property, city officials said. Another 30,000 trees grow on Chicago Park District property, while 400,000 ash trees are on on private property.
City officials expect that the bug will lay waste to between 25,000 and 30,000 parkway trees, Friedmann said.
In 2013, the city vowed to treat all of the salvageable ash trees in the city's parkways with an injectable insecticide that needs to be used every three years. The cost to inoculate a tree is $46, compared with $1,000 to remove and replace a tree, city officials said.
Trees that were treated in 2013 were marked with a red medallion. By the end of this year, the city hopes to innoculate between 25,000 and 30,000 trees, Poppe said.
"The problem is that in a lot of cases, if the trees didn't get treated last year, they didn't make it to this year," Friedmann said.
The spread of the emerald ash borer will likely be slowed by the fierce winter weather that blanketed the city, Friedmann said. The bugs lay their eggs inside the tree's bark, and tunnel their way out when they hatch, destroying the tree, he added.
"It won't stop them," Friedmann said. "But it will slow down the damage and buy us another year."
Although cuts eliminated the city's entire budget for replacement tree planting last year, new funds have been found and the trees that are chopped down in the 45th Ward will be replaced, Arena said.
In 2014, the city will spend $2.9 millon on the innoculation effort, tree planting and tree removal, Poppe said.
In all, the city will plant 5,400 trees, focusing on areas that have been hit the hardest by the emerald ash borer infestation, Poppe said.
Most often, ash trees are replaced with lindens, maples and oaks, city officials said.
Residents can email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for a replacement tree.