Green rings around the trunks of boulevard trees in Saint Paul are an ominous sign that the emerald ash borer (EAB) is continuing to take a heavy toll in the city. About 3,000 boulevard ash trees are expected to come down in 2021 through the city’s “structured removal” program.

The program is meeting with pushback from some homeowners, who are asking if their trees can be saved from the chain saws by insecticide treatments. While tree service professionals and homeowners who treat trees contend the treatments can prolong a tree’s life, city staff have indicated that most of Saint Paul’s boulevard ash trees are likely to be gone by 2024.

That is one year later than the city’s forestry division had originally planned for, said Mike Hahm, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “We’ve fallen a bit behind,” he said.

This year’s boulevard tree removal began on the East Side in January and will move westward throughout the city. Stumps will be removed by 2022 at the earliest, followed by the planting of replacement trees in 2023.

The stumps of trees removed in 2020 will be ground out this year starting in the spring, with new trees planted in 2022.

 

EAB was first discovered in the city’s South Saint Anthony Park neighborhood in 2009. The Asian insects lay eggs in ash trees, and the larvae feeding beneath the bark gradually kill the trees. Small trees can die as soon as one to two years after infestation, while larger trees can survive for three to four years. City leaders have long said it will take 12-15 years for EAB to run its course.

Boulevard ash trees have been marked for removal this year in the West End, Merriam Park, Snelling-Hamline, Lexington-Hamline. Macalester-Groveland, Highland Park, Summit Hill and Summit-University neighborhoods.

 

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ash borer
A tree destroyed by the emerald ash borer.

The Lexington-Hamline neighborhood has been hit especially hard, with more than 125 trees marked for removal on Hague, Laurel and Ashland avenues. In Snelling-Hamline, almost 90 trees along Portland Avenue are marked for removal.

“I was truly upset to see all of those green rings,” said Lexington-Hamline resident Margot Fortunato Galt. Her family has paid to have its boulevard ash tree treated for the last six years and it has thus far not been marked.

The Lexington-Hamline Community Council is now organizing to save as many as 15-20 percent of the neighborhood’s boulevard ash trees. It is urging property owners to have trees tested to see if they can be treated and saved. Residents also are being asked to adopt other trees for treatment. Residents can email lexham@lexham.org for more information.

Laura Schwope Capistrant’s family has treated their boulevard ash tree on Fairview and Dayton avenues in Merriam Park for the past eight years and it has remained healthy.

“I wish more homeowners knew about the option to treat their trees ahead of this mass removal,” she said. “Our streetscape is going to change drastically for years to come.”

“I was truly upset to see all of those green rings,” said Lexington-Hamline resident Margot Fortunato Galt, whose family has paid to have its boulevard ash tree treated for the last six years.

Merriam Park has more than 70 ash trees marked for removal on and near Dayton Avenue between Snelling and Fairview. Iglehart and Carroll avenues east of Wheeler Street and west of Snelling will lose more than 50 trees. And more than 50 trees on Wheeler between Concordia and Summit avenues also are marked.

Wheeler in Macalester-Groveland has about two dozen more trees scheduled for removal. Summit Avenue west of Fairview will lose about two dozen trees.

Other local streets are also targeted for extensive ash tree removal. The Upper Landing neighborhood is slated to lose more than 50 trees, as is Berkeley Avenue between Snelling and Fairview. Bayard Avenue between Pascal Street and Hamline Avenue has more than 30 trees marked. Several other blocks in the area will lose almost all of their ash trees.

Cretin Avenue between Niles Avenue and Ford Parkway has more than 70 trees marked to be cut down.

The treatment of boulevard trees is a subject of some debate. The city’s position is that all of the ash trees on public property will eventually have to come down. City officials have regarded treating trees as a way to slow EAB’s spread, not as a way to save them.

Leben McCormick, a consulting arborist with Rainbow Tree Service, said some ash trees can be saved with treatments applied every other year. Each treatment costs about $120-$400, varying by tree size.

— Jane McClure

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