Emerald Ash Borer
The Rockford Park District is committed to providing well-maintained facilities and assets that are clean and attractive, in good repair, preserved, and positioned for long-term use and sustainability.
Rockford Park District has 177 parks and facilities, 4,939 total acres of land that includes 938 acres of forested natural areas containing hundreds of thousands of various trees and the remaining open park acres that contain 24,373 trees of varying species. In 2013, the Rockford Board of Commissioners approved a Sustainability policy, which embraces the principles and practices of sustainability to insure that Rockford Park District assets will remain and be preserved for future generations. Sustainability means to use resources (money, staff, materials, land, programs, partnerships, etc.) more efficiently, and in ways which benefit the environment, along with social and economic aspects of our community. Rockford Park District staff implements the principles and concepts of the District’s sustainability policy into daily decisions.
From 2009 to 2014, District staff completed an inventory of all natural areas, started a tree inventory, and worked with WinGIS to host the data. During that timeframe, the District was impacted by the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and initiated a pro-active plan, which was implemented in 2015, to address any damage caused by the highly destructive, tree-killing insect. “We have identified approximately 3,500 ash trees which would cost the District nearly $1.7 million to remove. EAB, a major microburst in 2003, and storm damage over the years has significantly altered the District’s tree canopy and is also a very costly problem to fix,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke.
Staff has prepared an EAB management plan that recommends a multi-year approach to remove the trees that are dead or in significant decline and replace them with new tree plantings. “Our community trees and forests clean our air and water, reduce summer temperatures, provide wildlife habitat, reduce flooding, and increase property values. We are planning and managing these tree resources to ensure these benefits are there for future generations,” said Rockford Park District Horticulture and Natural Areas Supervisor Nathan Hill. It is the goal of the District to replant trees within one year of an ash tree removal with a 2 to 1 ratio. Removals are prioritized using GIS spatial data based on tree size, condition, and proximity to park amenities, as well as RPD staff input. To date, the District has removed approximately 500 ash trees.
The Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners recently approved a contract with Wilson Custom Tree in the amount of $50,922 to remove identified ash trees from four golf courses. In all, 109 trees will be removed and will include: 11 trees at Elliot Golf Course, 12 trees at Ingersoll Golf Course, 73 trees at Sandy Hollow Golf Course, and 13 trees at Sinnissippi Golf Course. The trees to be removed will be wrapped with tape identifying them as emerald ash borer infested trees. Golf staff has requested that the removal be completed before the golf courses open for the season. Additional ash trees need to be removed at select parks and will be completed later in 2016.
In 2015, the District began developing an Urban Tree Management Plan and Forest Resource Management Plan which included many community partners in the planning process. The plan could include an environmentally friendly, alternative revenue opportunity to repurpose trees at the end of their life cycle to fund the planting of hundreds of new, diverse tree species. As a pilot project, and being one of the largest parks in the District, staff identified Atwood Park to begin the effort to create a healthier tree population. “The removal of end-of-life, dead, and dying trees, by a contracted professional arborist minimizes the risk of injury of both users and staff, and curtails liability of the District,” said Dimke. The District worked with a vendor to harvest 28 designated trees, and the District procured $24,915 that will be used to purchase 150 trees to be planted in 2016. Other forested areas could be considered for a similar harvest of selected damaged and aged trees in the future. Staff is in the process of developing a natural areas tree harvest plan which will be reviewed by the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners at a future meeting.