St. Clair Park
West End residents signed a Save Our Shade petition after learning that dozens of ash trees were marked for removal with green stripes near the West Seventh Community Center.

Ash tree removal began the week of August 23 at Saint Clair Park on Oneida Street, much to the dismay of many West End residents. Almost three dozen ash trees were scheduled to be removed, or more than half of the trees in the park. The work is to be completed by Labor Day.

Neighbors can take some consolation in that city forestry staff reassessed conditions at the park, and decided to save seven trees. The fate of an additional four trees is being reconsidered.

While park neighbors are pleased that some shade will be preserved, they agree that losing the trees will change the character of the park.

Forestry staff contend that most of the park’s trees need to be removed because they are in declining health. Not only are the trees infested with emerald ash borers, but ones along a pathway were planted too close together years ago.

“But we understand there’ll be huge impacts to the park,” said Rachel Coyle, urban forester supervisor for the city.

West End residents have submitted a Save Our Shade petition with 288 signatures to city officials. More than a dozen people also met virtually on August 19 to discuss the removal of trees with forestry staff, city Parks and Recreation director Mike Hahm and Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker.

Noecker is checking to see if funding is available to pay for larger replacement trees. Plans currently call for tree replacement at an Arbor Day event next year.

 

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“I hear your frustration,” said Noecker, whose own West Side neighborhood has also lost many ash trees.

“But we understand there’ll be huge impacts to the park,” said Rachel Coyle, urban forester supervisor for the city.

Instead of losing most of the park’s trees at once, petitioners asked that the trees be removed in phases. They also asked that the city continue to treat and prune a minimum two-thirds of the park’s ash trees, and that the city start replanting as soon as possible with a minimum of four new tree species to increase their resilience.

Hahm said some of the petitioners’ requests are not feasible. In a letter to neighbors, he said phasing removals can create its own set of issues, including more time spent mobilizing forestry crews, and more disruptions to the park’s users. He said the city was already asked to postpone the tree removals until late August when fewer children were present.

“It’s also worth noting that there will be very little gained by phasing removals, as planting would be deferred until all identified trees are removed, or at best minimal planting only where there would be no conflicts with future removals,” Hahm wrote.

After the meeting, neighbors Meg Duhr, Naomi Blinick and Jessica Puckett said that while they were pleased to see some trees saved, they had some frustration with the outcome. They would like to see city policy changes and questioned whether it is cost-effective to remove and replace trees rather than continue to treat them.

They also raised the issue of neighborhood notification. They said residents get all kinds of mailings about recycling, hazardous waste and neighborhood cleanups, but the city does not inform them that they have the option to treat their boulevard ash trees.

“And there’s no way to know when park trees will come down and be able to weigh in,” Blinick said.

Ash borer has been quite a pest

The emerald ash borer was first found in Saint Paul in 2009. The insects’ larvae burrow under the bark and feed on a tree’s circulatory system, eventually killing it. Ash trees then become brittle and branches start to fall.

The city has treated some trees with the intent of slowing the spread of the insect, but those treatment programs have ended. The focus now is on ash tree removal and replacement with more diverse tree species. By the end of the year crews will have removed a total of 31,000 ash trees from boulevards and 3,600 from parks.

— Jane McClure

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