Ash trees are common in yards, along streets and on farms throughout Wisconsin, but millions of these trees across the U.S. have been decimated by emerald ash borers. Homeowners, municipalities and farmers have been forced to remove these dead or dying trees.
What’s happening today reminds me of the devastation to elm trees in the early 1960s by Dutch elm disease. At that time, elm trees were dying in droves much like ash trees are dying today.
I grew up in Geneva, Ill., about 40 miles west of Chicago. Where I grew up, Dutch elm trees lined both sides of the road for miles. Dutch elm disease devastated our town. I was only about 4 years old when men with large trucks came to cut down and remove three huge trees from our front lawn near the road and several more trees on the other side of the road.
It was sad for my parents and the whole community to see these once beautiful and majestic trees cut down, leaving huge stumps that took years to rot away and disappear. I can still remember my mom talking to my aunt about how distressing it was to see the trees cut down.
The road never looked the same. While everyone had trees in their yards, nobody planted trees along the road again. The road looked naked for years until newly planted trees planted farther back from the road grew larger and eventually filled in.
Fast-forward almost 60 years and I hear myself saying many of the same things my parents and my aunt said about Dutch elm disease, but this time about emerald ash borers killing ash trees. Five years ago, I began noticing there were a lot of dead groves of trees along the highways and byways I traveled across the state. I wondered why. Soon I learned these were ash trees, and I began to notice hundreds of trees in the village where I live were showing signs of stress and beginning to die.
These trees were the first to turn color and lose their leaves in the fall, including one tree across the street from our house. Last year, I watched woodpeckers strip off much of the bark on that tree to expose emerald ash borers that burrowed into the tree under the bark. The tree only had about half the normal number of leaves in the spring and was one of the first trees to lose its leaves in the fall. This year, the tree only has a few leaves.
A big green X was painted on the trunk of the tree in May. I learned the village of Brandon, population 865, has 400 trees marked with a green X for removal this year. All of these trees are located on terraces in the front yards of homes between the sidewalk and the street or in one of two parks. Thousands more trees are dying the same slow death in Brandon but are the responsibility of homeowners to have removed from their yards. This is true on farms across the state.
I hope everyone will plant new trees to replace the dying ash trees and help make damaged landscapes look whole again.
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