The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Horner Park's Ash Trees Are Thriving Thanks to Real-Life Lorax

By Patty Wetli | October 28, 2015 9:39am | Updated on October 28, 2015 3:27pm
 Horner Park's advisory council bucked city policy and saved its ash trees from Humboldt's fate.
Horner Park Trees Saved
View Full Caption

IRVING PARK — In a tale of two parks, Horner Park's 65 ash trees recently received a clean bill of health while nearly 600 were chopped down in Humboldt Park, victims of the emerald ash borer.

In the case of Horner, 2741 W. Montrose Ave., a real-life Lorax was in its corner — John Friedmann, a real estate agent by profession and founder of the Save Your Ash coalition by vocation.

Horner Park's ash trees are thriving; In Humboldt Park, an estimated 650 untreated ash trees were decimated by emerald ash borer. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli; DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Walking through Horner last week, Friedmann, vice president of the park's advisory council, directed a guest's attention to a stand of autumn purple ash trees, their distinctive deep red leaves putting on a fall foliage show. Among them was an unusual single-leaf ash cultivar that's more commonly found in central Europe.

The park has 13 single-leaf ash trees while the Morton Arboretum has only one, the self-professed tree guy said, adding, "We don't know what they're doing here."

If it weren't for the telltale metallic tags hanging from each ash, a sign that they've received treatment to combat the ash borer, it would be difficult to know these trees were under attack by a plague that could some day rival Dutch elm disease in terms of sheer devastation.

Sharp-eyed observers will note that the tags in Horner are different from the ones Chicago has used to identify the ash trees that workers have treated in the city's parkways.

That's because the city didn't save Horner's trees. The park's advisory council did. On its own dime. Against the Park District's prevailing policy.

More than two years ago, Friedmann, who's also chairman of the North River Commission's environment committee, began sounding the alarm regarding the ash borer, which decimates trees from the inside out.

Left unchecked, the borer has the potential to obliterate the entire ash tree population in the U.S., a fate Friedmann said could be avoided if the infestation were quickly addressed.

He presented treatment options — namely an injectable insecticide that requires "booster shots" every three years — to any group who would listen. Among those who heeded his call: the Horner Park Advisory Council.

The catch: the Park District had decided against treating its ash trees, which number in the tens of thousands.

"The Park District’s tree inventory is balanced — mixed forest with many species," a spokeswoman for the agency told DNAinfo back in 2013. "Removal of the ash trees in city parks would not leave an exposed and bare landscape since there will be many trees left behind."

To this day, Friedmann remains flummoxed by the Park District's response.

"It was so shortsighted," he said, not only from an aesthetic and environmental standpoint, but a fiscal one as well.

"It cost us $78 to treat a tree. That's good for three years, so $26 a tree," Friedmann said.

Cutting down a tree, removing the stump and planting a new tree easily adds up to $1,000 or more, he said.

"Where's all this money coming from to cut them down? Look at the tab we're going to pay," Friedmann said. "Here, for $26 a year we can save these trees."

After crunching the numbers, Friedmann and Horner Park's advisory council refused to take the Park District's "no" for an answer. If the agency wasn't going to save the trees, the council would.

Community volunteers surveyed the park's ash trees and the council fought for permission to hire a private contractor to apply the insecticide at its own expense.

Then-Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) had pledged to kick in half the amount needed to treat Horner's trees if the council could raise the other half. It did, and Mell made good on his promise, writing a check for $2,600 even though he had since left office.

Sixty-five ash trees were treated in Horner in 2013, with the city issuing permits at the 11th hour.

The result?

"Everything here is healthy," Friedmann said. "Our park is 100 percent healthy. Basically Horner will be the largest clump of ash left."

In 2014 Friedmann worked with the North River Commission to coordinate ash tree treatment at other parks in the organization's service area.

Sharon Parmet of the Gompers Park advisory council and Jane Friedman of North River Commission spearheaded fundraising efforts that ultimately saved 33 ash trees in Gompers, though many more were untreatable, and 30 more total among Hollywood, Peterson and Eugene Field parks, as well as the North Park Village Nature Center.

Only one tree treated by the coalition has died, in Ravenswood Manor Park.

"It was too far gone" at the time of injection, Friedmann said.

Though Friedmann said the Park District's current administration has been more helpful than its predecessor in terms of approving permits and providing ongoing forestry assistance at Horner, that's small comfort given the number of ash trees lost across the city.

"Trees are what makes a park a park," he said. "To just let them die when they could be saved, that's the tragedy."

Healthy ash trees border a playground at Horner Park. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

The telltale sign an ash tree has been treated to combat emerald ash borer.

Healthy ash trees line a walking path in Horner Park.

John Friedmann points out an unusual single-leaf ash tree in Horner Park.

Picture a blank space where these healthy ash trees stand in Horner Park.

John Friedmann, founder of Save Your Ash, pictured in Horner Park.

Inventory of a portion of Horner Park's ash trees. [John Friedmann]

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: