Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Brittingham Park tree

Bikers pass by one of 14 Brittingham Park ash trees treated against the emerald ash borer this week. 

On Wednesday, Peter Ostlind declared a minor victory in the battle against the emerald ash borer.

“We were trying to cover the whole Capitol Neighborhoods area,” said Peter Ostlind, a Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. board member. “We treated every tree that met the city’s minimum requirements in those parks.”

Ostlind was referring to four parks with ash trees that are located in the city’s downtown area: Brittingham, James Madison, Law and Reynolds. Because of the infestation by the pernicious beetle, ash trees have to be either treated or felled. Treating them costs money and the city is looking for folks willing to foot the bill.

Last year, the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association funded treatments in Reynolds and James Madison parks. Through the efforts of Ostlind and others, the lives of ash trees in Law and Brittingham parks were saved this week.

But while neighborhood groups work to save park trees, the city is getting ready to close the door on the city’s adopt-a-tree program.

“It looks like next year will be the final year for any adoptions as the EAB is spreading quickly across the city,” said Madison parks spokeswoman Ann Shea. “We cannot take a chance that trees remaining untreated will become infested before they are removed.”

The adopt-a-tree program allows residents, neighborhood associations, businesses and others concerned about the loss of ash trees to hire city approved contractors to treat trees against the infestation. The emerald ash borer was first spotted in Madison in 2013 and has since spread across the city. Trees that qualify are those that measure at least 10 inches in diameter, are in good health and are not located underneath power lines.

The cost for treatment comes to about $225 per tree.

The city has already cut down more than 2,100 park trees and Shea said arborists are working from east to west to eliminate untreated ashes.

“If it hasn’t been adopted, it’s going to come down,” Shea said. “So if someone wants to see if a tree’s eligible, they need to come forward sooner rather than later. Once it’s down, it’s too late.”

The city has set a deadline of Sept. 1 for adoption applications to allow trees enough time to absorb the treatments before going dormant for the winter. After that, applications won’t be accepted until next spring.

The trees saved so far are a small but visible percentage of the whole. A crew was out Tuesday and Wednesday this week treating 14 trees in Brittingham Park and 12 trees in Law Park, for a total of 26. Last year’s effort by the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association saved 11 trees in James Madison Park and two in Reynolds Park.

So far, 218 park trees have been saved since the inception of the program three years ago.

Ostlind said that he’s raised about $6,000 to save the Brittingham and Law park trees by sending out a plea on the neighborhood list serve, and hitting up property owners and businesses. The effort got a boost from a few larger donations from the Echo Tap, McBride Properties, McGrath Property Group, Brittingham Boats and the Monona Bay Neighborhood Association.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

The rest came from individual donors. When the trees need to be treated again in two or three years, he said, he’ll go through the process all over again.

“We’ve got actually more money now that we can spend on the available ash trees on those parks,” he said. “So we’ll have a little cushion to start the next round with.”

There are also efforts to address the loss of ash trees on the street. So far, according to Shea, the city has cut down 1,245 street trees, with plans to eliminate those that don't meet treatment criteria at a rate of 1,700 per year.

The loss of about 40 trees on Jenifer Street on the city’s near east side last May obliterated the canopy on one side of the street, prompting residents there to organize. The Madison Canopy Street Tree Committee hopes to take canopy tree preservation and development citywide.

“We've made connections with pro-tree people in the most impacted neighborhoods across the city and are going to get together to share what we've learned about the city's tree planting policies, policies and programs in other municipalities, why canopy trees are so important, and then next steps like outreach and education,” said Jenifer Street resident Leslie Schroeder in an email. “We aim to create an inter-neighborhood collation to move the issue forward.”

The group is meeting on on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 301 at Madison's Central Library.

In addition, in July the Sustainable Madison Committee created a new Subcommittee on Street Trees to look at the issue.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.