Emerald ash borer costs rising

April 4, 2019

The cost of fighting the emerald ash borer is rising in Rochester.

Faced with an expected $33,741 budget shortfall this year and a near doubling of costs in 2020, the Rochester City Council is seeking to cut back work related to trees on private property and consider a change to treat more trees, rather than cutting them down and replacing them.

“That’s one way to lower costs,” City Forester Jeff Haberman said, noting the treatment option is less expensive than removing and replacing existing trees.

The city’s 20-year plan to fight the emerald ash borer infestation was adopted in 2016, with the expectation that 3,000 trees on public property would be treated, with the rest being removed and replaced.

Of the treated trees, 1,100 have been slated to be treated for only 10 years, with plans to eventually remove them. Haberman said the goal was to delay removal costs.

The city has seen the number of trees dying due to the ash borer infestation increasing. Fifty-four dead trees were reported in 2015, and 1,800 were found last year.

Trees die after ash borer larvae tunnel underneath the bark of ash trees.

Haberman said data indicates the problem will get worse as the ash borers spread through the city, taking advantage of trees that haven’t been treated.

The cost is climbing with the increased numbers.

Expenses for 2019 have already outpaced last year. Once planned plantings are done, the cost will top $300,000, bringing the combined expense to nearly $825,000 since the first emerald ash borer was found south of the city.

Next year’s estimated expense is $686,000.

“This has become an increased burden on the city,” Haberman told the council Monday during its weekly informal meeting.

He said costs could come down as new technology is developed, which could include finding a way for the trees to naturally fend off the ash borer.

For now, he said the fight must continue in some form.

Approximately 13 percent of the city’s existing tree canopy is made up of ash trees. Haberman said losing all those trees would reduce the canopy to nearly half the recommended amount of coverage.

With plans already underway to treat 900 to 1,000 trees this summer, City Council members indicated more trees should be treated to avoid paying the higher cost of removal next year.

“I think we still have an opportunity to save some trees that would otherwise succumb,” Haberman said.

While council members supported backing off conducting inspections on private property to reduce city costs, Council Member Michael Wojcik noted attention is needed regarding trees near public amenities, such as trails and parkland.

He said forestry staff should be on the lookout for trees that could fall on public rights of way.

Additionally, he suggested finding a way to help property owners identify ash trees in their yards.

“A lot of people have no idea what that tree behind their house is,” he said.

Council Member Nick Campion asked city staff to increase education on the issue as the city looks to reduce its work on private property.

Mike Nigbur, the city’s park and forestry division head, said that reduction in private-property inspections will likely have some future costs if residents don’t treat or remove their own trees, especially near parks.

“There will be an eventual uptick in mitigation,” he said, noting city staff could ultimately be tasked with requiring the removal of dead trees.

Haberman said he will return to the council with proposed revisions to city ordinances and the emerald ash borer master plan to reduce future costs.