Englewood looks to create community forestry program for ash trees threatened by beetles

City proposes subsidies for homeowners, but timeline for launch is unclear

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For Englewood Open Space Manager Dave Lee, the arrival of an infamous tree-killing beetle in the city is a certainty. 

“This is something that’s been on the horizon for a while now,” Lee said. “It’s not if, it’s when.”

The emerald ash borer, first identified in Colorado in Boulder County in 2013, is a destructive, non-native insect that infests, and ultimately kills, ash trees. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the beetle is responsible for killing tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states. 

With the beetles' continued spread throughout the Front Range, the City of Englewood is preparing to launch a new community forestry program to provide subsidies to homeowners looking to treat or remove the trees.

Ash trees make up about 15% to 20% of Colorado’s urban forests, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, with about 22,600 in Englewood. Though the beetle has not yet been identified in the city, it was last reported less than 20 miles away, in Arvada, in June 2020. 

Lee said the city is preparing to approve about $30,00 in funds to repay homeowners who either remove their trees or use chemical treatments to prevent infestation. Lee said the funds will not be enough to cover all homeowners in the city, who could individually see up to $500 in subsidies, meaning the program will operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. 

“We would like to make sure that our community forests stay as intact as possible,” Lee said. “It’s part of our sustainability plan for the City of Englewood.”

The boring beetles were first found in Michigan and most likely came to Colorado through the transfer of firewood, according to Deidre Jaeger, a doctoral candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Lacking any enemies in Colorado to keep it in check, the ash borer’s spread has been unrelenting, according to Jaeger, who said Boulder County’s urban canopy coverage has been cut nearly in half since the beetle was first identified in 2013. 

The beetle can kill a tree in as fast as one to two seasons, Jaeger said, though it can take years until a tree dies. While trunk injections can serve as a preventable measure, once a tree that has not been protected is infested, its fate is sealed. 

“If (ash trees) are infested, it is a matter of time before we lose them, and one of the biggest risks is we don’t know how fast the pest will kill the tree, and once it does the tree can become really structurally unsound,” Jaeger said, adding that this poses risks to people and property. 

It’s all the more reason why homeowners whose trees do become infested take quick action to remove the trees. But with ash trees so common and beloved by Front Range communities, parting with one can be especially difficult. 

“There are some people who want to hang on to the tree until it's lost its last green leaf,” Jaeger said, adding that “trees are a foundation of many other micro-ecosystems.” 

Known for providing large amount of shade, the trees also present eye-popping colors in the fall and have become a cultural symbol for the region. Being a semi-arid climate, the plains of Colorado's Front Range prove picky about what trees it will let survive, with ash being among a few. But the beetles’ spread has shown the need for a variety of trees in urban settings, said Jaeger. 

“This has definitely taught us the value of planting more diversity,” she said. 

Even more important than diversifying species is diversifying tree genomes, according to Dana Coelho, urban & community forestry program manager for the Colorado State Forest Service. 

Coelho said the threat to ash trees is akin to the devastating spread of Dutch elm disease that began in the 1950s and killed over 40 million elm trees. When that happened, many communities began planting ash trees instead, but planting so much of the same tree has now led to a similar issue. 

“We over planted … so then when it became susceptible to something, woosh, there goes a big portion of your canopy,” Coelho said. 

By not just planting the same family of tree, such as pine, which has over 100 different species, urban communities can avoid pests that target different species within that same family. Coelho said Front Range communities should look to trees like the hearty Kentucky coffeetree or oak trees to replace ash trees that may become infested. 

It’s something that Lee said he hopes will become a priority of a future Englewood forester, a position that the city is actively seeking to fill. But the city has struggled to find the right applicants, Lee said, which could potentially delay the launch of the forestry program possibly to early 2023. 

“Anywhere you go across the Front Range, no matter what the business or industry is, everybody’s having a hard time hiring,” Lee said, adding that he remains “optimistically hopeful” the program can still launch this year.  

You can learn more about how to identify an ash tree as well as access resources for ash tree management by going to the City of Englewood’s website here.

Emerald Ash Borer, Englewood, Ash Tree, Forestry

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