Den­ver could lose one-sixth of all trees

“Be A Smart Ash” pro­gram ed­u­cates pri­vate prop­erty own­ers to the treat of the emer­ald ash borer

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Gra­ham Am­brose

More than one year into an am­bi­tious city­wide cam­paign to pre­vent an out­break of the in­va­sive emer­ald ash borer, Den­ver of­fi­cials still have not de­tected any traces of the tree-killing in­sect in the metro area — so far.

“If you talk to any ar­borist or tree ex­pert in the coun­try, they say that even­tu­ally the ash borer will move into the Den­ver metro area,” warns Rob Davis, city forester for Den­ver Parks & Recre­ation. “The time to start treat­ing trees is now.”

Early suc­cess pre­empt­ing in­fes­ta­tion has heart­ened city lead­ers, whose proac­tive ef­forts have bor­rowed from — and helped de­fine — best prac­tices against the ma­lig­nant pest. Ex­perts con­sider the preda­tor­less emer­ald

ash borer, first de­tected in Boul­der in 2013 and spot­ted again in Long­mont last June, to be “the most de­struc­tive tree in­sect ever to be in­tro­duced into North Amer­ica.” Pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures in­clude treat­ment for at-risk ash trees, thou­sands of new tree plant­ings in pub­lic parks and on city streets, and the launch of an in­for­ma­tion cam­paign — Be A Smart Ash — to ed­u­cate pri­vate prop­erty own­ers of the loom­ing dan­ger.

Of­fi­cials stress that Den­ver has a long way to go be­fore the all-clear and en­cour­age res­i­dents to re­main alert.

“We need to start mak­ing in­vest­ments in this now, be­cause it will dra­mat­i­cally re­duce our costs later,” says Jolon Clark, who rep­re­sents Den­ver’s 7th dis­trict on the City Coun­cil. “A dol­lar to­day will save us dozens down the road. It’s hard say­ing that we need $3 mil­lion to deal with a prob­lem we can’t see yet. But that’s what we’re do­ing be­cause of the pas­sion­ate peo­ple of Den­ver who are look­ing ahead to prob­lems in two, five and 10 years.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Colorado Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, the Den­ver metro area has an es­ti­mated 1.45 mil­lion ash trees, or one in ev­ery six trees in the city. The metal­lic green in­sect has dec­i­mated ash trees in Canada and the Mid­west, in­flict­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­ages in just 15 years. A re­port from the Colorado State For­est Ser­vice es­ti­mates that the eco­nomic dam­age to metro Den­ver alone could to­tal $82 mil­lion.

In June 2015, Clark and Davis vis­ited Mid­west­ern cities to as­sess ash tree dev­as­ta­tion and learn ef­fec­tive strate­gies from mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers in Chicago, Mil­wau­kee and Madi­son.

“Ev­ery­one said, ‘we wish we could have got­ten ahead.’ Be­cause by the time you find it, you’re four to five years into the in­fes­ta­tion, and by then it’s too late,” Clark said. “Some cities had no treat­ment, and ev­ery sin­gle ash tree died.”

Den­ver hopes to avoid that fate. Suc­cess will ul­ti­mately de­pend on pri­vate prop­erty own­ers, who con­trol more than 90 per­cent of all ash trees in metro Den­ver.

Be A Smart Ash re­lies on big data and clever mar­ket­ing to raise pub­lic aware­ness. Res­i­dents can use an in­ter­ac­tive map to iden­tify trees on their prop­erty and can re­quest a free re­place­ment tree through a pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ship. The ini­tia­tives, en­abled by a com­plete tree in­ven­tory com­pleted in 2016, have led to 4,500 free tree plant­ings on pri­vate prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to Davis. The city plans to re­place all ash trees on city streets by 2026.

In Fe­bru­ary the city’s Parks & Recre­ation depart­ment re­leased a staff­pro­duced ed­u­ca­tional mu­sic video that lays out prac­ti­cal steps for keep­ing ash trees healthy. The city has also tagged thou­sands of trees with bands pro­mot­ing the cam­paign.

To pro­fes­sional ar­borists like Davis, the stakes for con­tain­ment are high and mat­ter be­yond mere aes­thet­ics. Trees en­hance air qual­ity, raise prop­erty val­ues and pro­vide nec­es­sary cool­ing and shad­ing for a metro re­gion un­der­go­ing rapid de­vel­op­ment.

Plus, sick trees fall, caus­ing mas­sive dam­age to pedes­tri­ans, road­ways, prop­erty and in­fra­struc­ture.

“If all these trees were to die right away, we’d have a disas­ter on our hands,” says David Edinger, the chief per­for­mance of­fi­cer for the city and county of Den­ver. “We wouldn’t have the re­sources to move trees off the streets, side­walks and prop­er­ties quickly enough. There’s a prac­ti­cal, op­er­a­tional need to be proac­tive.”

With the ben­e­fit of lo­ca­tion, Den­ver has a trove of best prac­tices from across the coun­try to study and ap­ply. Still, how the city suc­ceeds or fails will help chart the course for re­gional mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties yet to con­front the tree-dec­i­mat­ing preda­tor.

“Other cities are all go­ing to look at what our city forestry team and parks depart­ment has done,” Clark said. “This is now the model for deal­ing with a bad sit­u­a­tion.”

Pro­vided by Colorado State For­est Ser­vice

A emer­ald ash borer adult on an ash tree leaf.

Pro­vided by Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens

A screen shot from a video ti­tled, “Get Ready for Emer­ald Ash Bor­ers in Colorado” on the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens YouTube page.

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