Green-ringed trees along Saint Paul streets have been coming down all spring, just the latest casualties in the city’s losing war with the emerald ash borer (EAB).

About 3,000 boulevard ash trees are expected to be felled in 2021 through the city’s structured removal program. However, there are an estimated 11,000 dying or dead ash trees along Saint Paul streets and, without additional financial help, it could be 2034 before all of the diseased trees are removed, their stumps ground out and new varieties planted.

The City Council passed a resolution earlier this month to seek federal funding to address ash tree removal and replacement. It is also looking at a joint city-Port Authority proposal that was unveiled on April 21 and could fund a sweeping tree removal and replacement program.

The partnership could be put in place later this year and fully implemented in 2022. It calls for the Port Authority to issue bonds of $17.7 million to $19.9 million for tree removal and replacement. Youth jobs could be created through the city’s Right Track program and the nonprofit Tree Trust. Adult workers could find a career path in forestry. Over time, the bond would be paid back through the Port Authority levy.

ash borer
A stretch of Mount Curve Boulevard during previous emerald ash borer control efforts. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“The devastation on our streets is just unacceptable,” said council member Rebecca Noecker.

Different funding scenarios could mean completion of the EAB removal and replacement work by 2027. A backlog of other stump removals and tree replacements could move up a few years and be completed by 2030. It also would allow the city to re-establish its regular tree trimming cycle.

The city has been dealing with the destructive emerald ash borers for more than a decade. Their larvae burrow under tree bark and feed on a tree’s circulatory system, eventually killing it. Insecticides can slow the insects’ spread, but city forestry staff estimate that the pests will keep doing damage.

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.

The Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation has found one-time funding sources to supplement city spending, according to director Mike Hahm, but that money is not nearly enough. Efforts to get ongoing state grants have failed at the Capitol.

Parks and Recreation staff estimate that by the end of 2021, there will be a backlog of 2,575 EAB stumps and 4,570 other stumps that need to be ground out, and approximately 18,150 sites needing replacement trees.

Council members are impatient to see progress on ash tree removal and had hoped to see a stepped-up tree removal and replacement plan in late 2020. They are hearing from constituents who are unhappy that trees are removed, but the stumps remain and new trees are not planted quickly.

“The devastation on our streets is just unacceptable,” said council member Rebecca Noecker.

“It looks like a tornado went through,” said council president Amy Brendmoen. “We expected this plan in December. We need answers now.”

— Jane McClure

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