GREENFIELD — Orange bands and red numbers mark their fates; dozens of trees’ days are limited.
The buzz of a chainsaw cut through Riley Park on Wednesday, masking the sounds of summertime in Greenfield as crews began cutting down the first of 126 ash trees devastated by the emerald ash borer.
About two dozen trees are in the worst shape and need to come down immediately, city naturalist Joe Whitfield said. A total of 126 trees in the city’s staple family park have been affected by the invasive insect native to Asia and will need to be cut down eventually.
As the trees come down, Regreening Greenfield, a nonprofit group that works to take care of trees throughout the city, and the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department will work to raise funds to replace the trees that currently canopy the park.
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Organizers hope to replace the ash trees affected by ash borer with red maple, sugar maple, oak, tulip and elm trees. Each tree will cost about $200, with the entire effort estimated to cost $30,000.
They plan to replace 20 trees a year through 2020.
The larvae of the insects are what kills the ash trees; they eat away at the tree’s vascular system.
The treatment for ash borer — drenching the tree’s roots with insecticide twice a year — hasn’t been enough to save the trees; and once they’re too far gone, they need to be removed for safety.
Last year, about a dozen trees were infected by the insect, Whitfield said. When he began looking at the trees this year, he noticed the insect had spread to more trees. He suspects it’s only a matter of time before all ash trees are infected by the bug.
“There’s … only two kinds of ash trees: dead and dying,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way you can save them now.”
He hopes the fundraiser to replace the trees is successful because they are a major part of the park’s landscape.
The replacement trees will be about 2½ feet tall when planted, meaning it will take decades for them to reach the height of their mature predecessors. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the replacement trees will grow an average of 1 to 2 feet per year and reach heights of 40 to 90 feet.
“It’s going to look kind of strange in there because there will be trees down and trees missing,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got to do it.”
The emerald ash borer arrived in Hancock County in 2011 and claimed its first Riley Park tree last year.
Park employees marked each of the park’s ash trees with red paint three years ago to watch for an infestation.
In 2013, the parks department planted 50 additional trees in Riley Park in anticipation of the arrival of the ash borer. Ash trees accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the park’s trees at the time.
Park employees are disappointed the infestation is so widespread, said Ellen Kuker, park superintendent.
“I think when you first come in to Riley Park, one of the first things you notice are the beautiful trees,” she said. “Without replacing the trees as quickly as we can, it’s just going to change the look and feel of the park.”
Organizers purposely selected a variety of tree species for replacement to avoid another widespread infestation.
“This way, if a new threat arises for a specific tree, we stand a chance of not taking out so many,” Kuker said.
Kuker said she hopes to work with city officials to find funding to pay part of the cost of replacing the ash trees, but there isn’t funding to cover all $30,000.
Of all the city’s parks, Riley was hit the hardest by the ash borer. The others appear to be in good shape, she said.
Besides providing a clean environment, trees are important for aesthetics, said Dan Riley, a Regreening Greenfield member.
Riley Park is an important part of the community, and Regreening Greenfield wants to help maintain it, he said.
He hopes the community will step up to donate to the fundraiser.
“Riley Park was built with community involvement,” he said. “It would be nice to maintain it with communi-ty involvement.”
Community members interested in donating to the fundraising effort to replace ash trees in Riley Park should send contributions to Regreening Greenfield, Inc., P.O. Box 39, Greenfield, IN 46140.
Contributions of $200 or more will be recognized on a plaque in the Patricia Elmore Center.
The emerald ash borer is a small, non-native beetle that feeds on ash trees. Larvae live between the outer bark and the trunk, actually consuming so much plant tissue that branches and entire trees eventually die. The ash borer was confirmed in Indiana in 2004 and in Hancock County in 2011.
“There’s … only two kinds of ash trees: dead and dying. I don’t think there’s any way you can save them now.”
City naturalist Joe Whitfield, on the impact of emerald ash borer in Riley Park