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Ash trees being cut

The city plans to remove about 1,000 ash trees a year in response to the arrival of the emerald ash borer.

The city’s 15-year Emerald Ash Borer plan, first discussed three years ago — before the tiny green insect was discovered in Lincoln this fall — details how the city will deal with the death of most ash trees on public property.

But during a public hearing on the plan Monday, several people suggested the city needs to begin planning for how the city will help Lincoln property owners deal with the loss of 40,000 to 50,000 private ash trees.

The plan to remove about 1,000 smaller ash trees along city streets each year, replacing them with other kinds of trees, has begun.

In fact, over the last two years, Lincoln has removed more than 1,200 ash trees as part of the effort to get ahead of the destruction, when an estimated 3,000 public ash trees are expected to die each year.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Lynn Johnson on Monday described the $22.8 million plan for dealing with the city’s 14,000 public ash trees. University of Nebraska-Lincoln forestry staff and community members praised the city’s plan.

However, several people said the city also needs to begin looking at the private ash tree situation, too.

The city has an ordinance that requires hazardous trees on private property to be removed, but city staff anticipates there are going to be brittle, dangerous dead trees standing in private yards.

The city will need a plan to help low-income homeowners pay for removing those dead trees, said Pat Anderson-Sifuentez, with Neighborworks.

People are bound to say they can’t afford it and bury their heads in the sand, she said. Having a program and financing available to help people remove trees is imperative, she said.

Lincoln also needs to encourage replacement of the ash trees removed from private property, just as the current plan envisions replacing every ash tree removed from public land, said Kristen Bousquet, with the Arbor Day Foundation. 

A canopy of trees is important for air quality, energy conservation, crime reduction, wildlife habitat, and provides a beautiful landscape, she said.

Replanting on private property is going to have to be part of the city’s plan, she said.

The city doesn’t have to fund it, but will play a key role in convening the players, she said.

The city's plan to replant with a variety of trees, so that no single genus makes up more than 5 to 10 percent of the community's trees is important to preventing a similar situation in the future, she said. 

The city plan also calls for treating some public trees to prolong their life, thus helping to avoid the wave of death that generally occurs within 7-9 years after the insect is discovered in a community.

The $22.8 million estimated cost of tackling the emerald ash borer devastation over the next 15 years is the department's best guess, based on current costs, Johnson said.

"Fifteen years from now we will know what it really costs," he said.

And the city expects about $12 million of that will go to private companies through contracts to take down the larger trees, replace trees and treat trees, Johnson said. 

“This is very much a public-private partnership,” he said.

The city staff will take down smaller trees, up to 18 inches in diameter, under the current plan. The city will contract with private companies to take down the larger trees, Johnson said.

The city geared up for the new work by hiring nine additional people a year ago, who will spend about 100 days a year removing the smaller ash trees and replanting 1,000 replacement trees each year. They will also spend about 100 days a year trimming public trees.

The city had 14 arborists and one supervisor before the new hires.

With the larger staff, the city hopes to dramatically reduce the current 30-year pruning cycle by about a third, Johnson said.

Next week, the council will act on the emerald ash borer response plan and on an ordinance that facilitates an adopt an ash program, where people pay for treatment of a street ash tree that will keep it alive.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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