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Kadner: Beetle costs Orland Park $3.5 million

An adult emerald ash borer. (AP Photo/Michigan State University)

An adult emerald ash borer. (AP Photo/Michigan State University)

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Updated: September 29, 2013 6:16AM



It’s amazing to see the devastation caused by an insect less than a half-inch long.

The emerald ash borer, a green beetle native to Asia, is going to cost Orland Park about $3.5 million over the next five years to seven years.

That’s a lot of money, but only a fraction of the roughly $12.5 billion being spent nationwide to cut down and replace damaged ash trees.

On Wednesday, a contractor hired by the village was busy cutting down and grinding up trees along 157th Street between 80th and 86th avenues.

It’s a startling sight to see a tree-lined street suddenly stripped naked.

Eventually, about 8,600 ash trees on public property in Orland Park will be removed, according to Joe LaMargo, spokesman for the village. Many more diseased trees (LaMargo said he doesn’t know how many) are on privately owned lots.

LaMargo said the village plans to replace many of the trees on the public right of way, but not all. Village residents will have to hire contractors to remove trees on private property

To the untrained eye, most of the trees being cut down looked healthy.

But the emerald ash borer does its initial damage by laying eggs in the trees that turn into larvae that bore holes into the tree trunks, sapping nutrients from the bark.

It can take a long time for a mature tree to die, a year or more. But eventually it will.

Once hollowed out, a strong wind can knock it down. So it’s considered a public safety hazard to allow the trees to stand.

That’s why on Monday trees with green leaves were cut down and placed one by one into a wood chipper, leaving a long row of tree stumps behind.

Fall is going to be a far less colorful time of the year in many parts of Orland Park.

No one seems to know for sure how the emerald ash borer — native to eastern China, Russia, Japan and Korea — made its way to the U.S. For thousands of years, the beetle was apparently confined to Asia.

The most prevalent theory about its immigration seems to be that it came over in packing crates made of ash wood on freight ships.

But before 2002, there were apparently no emerald ash borers in the U.S.

It was first discovered that year in Michigan, in counties near Detroit. Since then, it has spread to Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as Illinois.

The theory about the beetle coming to this country on shipments out of Asia seems to make sense until you begin to wonder why, when wood crates were the primary packaging material for goods in the 19th century, the insect did not arrive earlier from across the ocean.

Well, it’s a mystery that apparently no one has solved.

So Orland Park, far from the native home of the ash borer, accepted bids last year on the tree removal project and hired Groundskeeper Landscaping Care, of Mokena, to cut down and grind up the trees and restore the land where the trees once stood. Mid-America Tree and Landscape signed a contract to plant the replacement trees in the village.

So the good news is that jobs are being created throughout the Southland and America thanks to the Asian import.

The goal of the Orland Park programs, according to LaMargo, is to replace every tree that is cut down, although that probably won’t be the case.

The village discovered that some of the felled trees initially were planted too close together or too close to fire plugs, utility poles and other obstructions.

It’s estimated that the emerald ash borer has killed roughly 50 million ash trees in the U.S. to date — although experts admit that the real number is unknown but likely to increase over the years.

The good news, I guess, is that this isn’t an insect spreading a disease to humans. I suppose we’re lucky this isn’t being called the ash borer flu epidemic.

In addition to the damage caused to trees, the ash borer apparently is also having a devastating impact on the firewood industry.

Firewood in Illinois and other impacted states is under quarantine to limit the spread of the bug, although that seems to have had little impact.

Hey, maybe Congress could spend billions of dollars building giant walls around all the infected states to stop the beetle from immigrating.

And should we really be spending billions of tax dollars on these foreign insects when our homegrown insects are being neglected?

Sorry, it’s easy to get carried away when the topic is immigration.

Back to the trees that are disappearing in Orland Park.

I don’t consider myself a tree hugger, although I do appreciate the beauty of nature. I saw the trees in Orland Park grow for more than a decade from saplings into roadside companions.

Watching them blossom in the spring or their leaves turn from green to gold, brown and yellow in the fall became a ritual I enjoyed.

To see them cut down long before their time, well, it’s just plain sad.

New trees, hardly more than twigs, are taking their place in some spots. But chances are I will not be around to see them mature.

I took my old friends for granted, far too often, I realize now.

And I think about all the frantic calls I’ve received from readers over the years about some utility company crew either hacking off branches of some old oak tree or cutting down a maple.

I wasn’t as sympathetic as I should have been over the years.

“It’s just a tree,” I would say. “It’s for the good of the community.”

That may have been true. And there are worse things.

But watching those trees vanish into a chipper on Monday sure felt a lot like watching a mutilation.



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