By ALLISON MATYUS
Hyde Park is known for its lush landscaping and towering trees that seem to be a nature lovers’ oasis in a city that is made up of concrete and metal, but recent events have caused ash trees to disappear in alarming numbers.
Since the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that destroys ash trees, came to the U.S. through shipping materials, ash trees have been affected by the parasite left and right.
“There are about 13 million ash trees in the Chicagoland region, and most likely all of them will die,” said Daniella Pereira, the Regional Forester at Openlands, an organization that protects the natural and open spaces of the region.
Pereira, along with the help of volunteers, has planted about 3,000 trees in the Chicagoland area over 2 years. On Sept. 26, Openlands hosted a tree-planting day in Hyde Park to replant the trees that were lost to the ash borer.
Hyde Park resident Josh Telser first noticed the declining health of area ash trees about three years ago, and said it is inevitable that all the ash trees in the area will die.
“The emerald ash borer has just been unbelievably fast in killing these trees,” he said. “I imagine that the numbers are in over 1,000 in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area alone.
According to Pereira, the effects of the decreasing number of ash trees goes beyond just changing the appearance of a landscape.
“When you lose trees you’re losing canopy cover, which induces urban heat islands. Trees also capture storm water, and now that will be reduced which can cause flooding,” she said. “There is also the importance of air quality, especially in an urban environment.”
Telser has made calls to the University of Chicago, the aldermen’s offices, the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, and the Southeast Chicago Commission to report the ash trees that are constantly declining in health in the area.
Depending on where the tree is located depends on whom a resident should call. If the tree is in a park, the Park District is responsible whereas if an ash tree is on a parkway, that is the responsibility of the Bureau of Forestry of Chicago.
However, Pereria said if a tree is on a resident’s personal property, there is no regulation on it and they have to take it down themselves.
Replanting trees is the first step in solving this epidemic problem that is happening both citywide and in the Midwest region.
On the Sept. 26 event, Oak trees and Catalpas were planted along 54th Street and Shore Drive, a total of 20 trees in all. Anyone was welcome to join in and plant the trees, which Pereira said will be cared for by the individual community members.
“As we plant the trees, we [taught] them how to water and mulch properly,” she said. “We follow up with the trees and also go out and help with maintenance.”
She said there were about 30 people signed up for the gardening event, and said that Hyde Parkers have always been concerned with the ash tree problem.
“We have done tree planting a few times in Hyde Park. We did it in the spring at Ray School where we planted really big trees,” she said. “We also have planted in Washington Park and Jackson Park within the last couple of years.”