The La Crosse landscape is changing. The city is cutting down ash trees on boulevards all over La Crosse, meaning you could soon lose a tree in your yard. Many of those trees are perfectly healthy but are still being cut down.
It's part of the cities ongoing effort to stop the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that kills off ash trees. Infected trees need to come down before they fall down, but the decision to cut all ash trees down was a financial one.
Friday, city crews went through the city cutting down smaller ash trees. "Once the trees are dead they become a lot more hazardous to remove because of limb sheering," says La Crosse Parks & Forestry Coordinator Cinthia Johnson, "so at this time if we can get them out before they start to really decline, it's ideal."
Getting to trees before they are dead and dangerous means taking down healthy trees as well. The decision is financial, it's cheaper to cut than to treat the 4,500 boulevard trees in the city. Homeowners who are fond of their trees do have options. "You can do a homeowner treatment which is much more reasonable in price," says Johnson, "or they could opt to do a professional treatment which is more effective but at a higher cost." About 160 homeowners are going the treatment route, but it's a long-term commitment. "Emerald ash borer might not ever leave our community," says Johnson, "because of the bluffs and along the river, EAB might not ever leave."
One reason the ash borer is such a big problem actually dates back to the dutch elm disease outbreak that wiped out elms in La Crosse. "Rather than replacing with diverse species," says Johnson, "we actually replaced with just ash, so that's why our population of ash is so high in the city and the reason the insect can hop from tree to tree to tree."
The city is not making the same mistake twice, they are replacing the trees they cut down with a more diverse population. It's a task that will take years. "Our goal is to have everything done in 5 years but if all the trees are dead and dying in the city and it takes longer for us to remove them, that might have to be extended out," says Johnson.
The city will be replacing the boulevard trees they cut down as money becomes available in the budget. Homeowners who don't want to wait can get a permit and plant a tree at their own expense. For more information you can go to the parks and rec department page www.cityoflacrosse.org.
The city is also looking ahead to the next problem. The Asian Longhorn Beetle has been found in Wisconsin, it attacks and kills maple trees. For that reason the city strongly discourages homeowners from planting maples.