This week I evaluated a number of trees affected by emerald ash borer in the suburbs of Chicago, which reminded me of a guest blog post I wrote a few years back for a colleague's website. It covers a little bit about my past and my thoughts on the future effects of EAB around Chicago.
I developed an appreciation for trees and the environment at an early age. I grew up spending countless hours in the woods, lakes and parks of central and northern Wisconsin. Doing so led me to appreciate the benefits that trees bring to people - beauty, clean air and attraction of wildlife, among others.
Having now lived in Chicago for about 9 years, I have realized that many of my fellow urbanites didn’t have as much opportunity as I did growing up to experience nature. While many of my fellow Chicagoans do value the environment a great deal, it seems that this value has come from a different source. I believe that people begin to appreciate the environment for one of two reasons – they spend time in the outdoors and develop appreciation through their experience or they witness or learn about some sort of environmental degradation. Many Americans, especially urbanites, seem to get this value from the latter.
One such environmental challenge upon us today is the emerald ash borer (EAB). As most people reading this probably already know, EAB is an exotic insect that has destroyed millions of ash trees in North America and threatens to destroy millions more. It was first discovered affecting ash trees in Michigan around 2002, and has since spread throughout the U.S. and Canada. Many scientists predict that the borer could wipe out ash trees throughout North America, in both urban and rural areas. This is mainly a man-made tragedy, as the pest was most likely introduced to the United States in shipping containers from the Far East. When it came aground, it found a plethora of trees that had no natural resistance to it.
While emerald ash borer may decimate ash trees in our urban and rural forests, we need to look at this event not for the damage it will cause but for the opportunity it presents. I believe that, through increased awareness and improved management, our urban forest could be better off as a result of emerald ash borer. Yes, the damage caused by this insect will be catastrophic. But if it causes people to look at the underlying causes of the tragedy and try to prevent similar events from happening in the future, then we could be better off as a result. The attention the borer is getting could also cause many people to gain greater general appreciation for trees and the environment as a whole.
It is often said that modern urban forestry was borne out of a tragedy similar to EAB. Dutch elm disease killed millions of elm trees in this country, beginning in the 1930s. Many cities saw almost their entire tree canopy lost to the disease. This mass loss of trees made people appreciate their trees once they were gone, and led many to realize that we should care for our trees before such a tragedy could strike again. However, while the disease led to increased management and awareness of the benefits of our urban forest, we did not completely learn the lessons the epidemic should have taught us. We still took care of our trees in a way that allowed devastating events such as EAB to occur.
You may ask what you can do to manage EAB on your property or in your neighborhood. High value ash trees that aren't infected or haven't begun to show much stress from the borer can be treated and potentially saved. However, it isn't economical to save many ash trees. Most will be lost. Instead, the best thing you can do is plan for the future. Use EAB as an opportunity to show why and how we should prepare our urban forest to be resilient against similar pests in the future. Many people have already begun to do exactly this. You can get more detailed information on management options at www.emeraldashborer.info.
I became an arborist because of my love for the environment and my desire to educate others about the natural aspects of cities and to improve the relationship between nature and city. I see the presence of emerald ash borer as an opportunity to do just that. Let’s continue to treat the issue as a chance to better our urban forests, parks and urban areas in general. Plant more trees. Educate your neighbor on emerald ash borer and the benefits of trees and other environmental assets.
Let’s hope that in the future we won’t need to rely so much on environmental hardships to get people to appreciate the natural world around them. But until then, let's use opportunities like EAB to help people appreciate the environmental assets that surround them every day.