Another side to emerald ash borer treatments – Letter to the Editor

I worked for the Minneapolis Park Board forestry department in the late ‘70s on a takedown crew with Dutch elm disease at its peak. This is where I heard the sound of the chainsaw singing the song of death for the elm trees. Now I’m a retired arborist who ran a lawn, landscape and tree service for over 30 years here in south Minneapolis. I recently read an article in the Southside Pride by Cam Gordon [“Are tree treatments worth the risks?” November 2023] that seemed rather one-sided. My dad always said there’s two sides to every coin. First off, it can be very expensive to remove some of the large ash trees that are infected with emerald ash borer (EAB). This can be an economic burden that affects low-income homes disproportionately. Gordon authored and passed a resolution in 2010 urging residents not to use insecticide treatments to save their ash trees. This resolution was being used by the Park Board as the reason they did not educate homeowners on treatment options and were going directly to condemning and sending a 60-day notice to remove the ash trees, which can be very expensive. The cost of removing mature ash trees is much greater than the cost of protecting the tree. Really? You’re purposely not going to inform the homeowners of the option to have their trees treated because of your agenda to remove all ash trees. Some of these trees showing no signs of EAB at all but were still being marked for removal. This seems to me like a very deceptive and deceitful practice. No information, no choice, cut them down, period. We know what’s better for you than you do. What kind of regime are you running here, Ralph Sievert? It sounds almost gestapo-like in nature. My way or the highway, that’s how you want to operate a city government department?
The Minneapolis Park Board cut down over 40,000 ash trees on public land from 2010 to 2022. Not all these trees were diseased, but they went ahead and sanitized them anyway. How much carbon were these trees sequestering while giving us oxygen to breathe, shading our homes, giving wildlife a place to live, etc. It’s a fact that the ash tree flowers are considered insignificant and not a destination for pollinators. Ash trees are not pollinated by bees. The chemical we use to treat ash trees is emamectin benzoate, which is not a neonicotinoid.
Gordon’s article was full of half-truths and unexamined misinformation. I find this a good example of what is called binary consensus: making a complex and nuanced situation into a false choice between two polarities. In this case it is a false choice between using insecticides and complete abstention from them. There are many ways to navigate the risk/reward balance in any situation. According to Gordon, the risks are not worth the reward – although I don’t believe he understands the full extent of the risks involved.
Arborists are environmentalists and have been at the forefront of mitigating the effects of the urban heat island since before climate change became prominent in the news. Responsible use of pesticides is part of our approach to integrated pest management, an evolving discipline that constantly seeks to limit or eliminate off-target damage from our activities. The arrival of new pests such as EAB requires responses that go beyond just removal and replacement of ash trees.
Insecticides are not intended to be perpetual life support for ash trees. They are useful in lowering the population pressure and the rate of tree loss while the removal and replacement of the ash component of the canopy takes place. Financial burdens to the homeowners could have been avoided if the homeowners had heeded the advice 10 or more years ago to protect their trees for a few years while they saved up a budget to remove the trees and start something new. Many have kicked the can down the road and the inevitable outcome has happened: a dead ash tree. The pressure has risen on arborists to help salvage trees that are too far gone to rescue with insecticides, as homeowners are faced with an expensive tree removal. This does not even take into account the stress on the trees that have not received proper irrigation during a three-year drought.
It’s all really quite simple – if people want to protect the trees on their properties that’s their right. The Park Board has no business telling them what or what not to do.

Joseph Boller, arborist
Grass and Grounds

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