MUNSTER | The loud buzz of chain saws spelled the end of 20 ash trees infected with emerald ash borers.
The sound in Munster last week brought out residents to witness the felling of trees planted decades before in parkways.
Crews from Erwin Tree Care Inc., of Hobart, are working throughout Munster on the first of two contracts with the town to cut down 130 infected ash trees, chip the branches, dispose of the trunks and grind up the roots by Sept. 30.
This first contract totals $32,655 and is being paid in part by a $20,000 federal grant and a matching $20,000 grant from the Indiana Urban Water Initiative.
Additional funds will be taken from Munster’s riverboat fund. The grants also provide money to replant specific native species of trees in the parkways.
In 2012, project forester Gina Darnell, of Forest Resource Planning of Chesterton, was hired to inspect the 1,200 ash trees on public land in Munster for the emerald ash borer, a bullet-shaped beetle native to Asia that was introduced into the U.S. in the 1990s. Darnell also has created a computerized tree inventory and recommended which trees should be removed.
Those trees have been marked with white signs and will be removed on a schedule.
The Town Council recently approved an extension of Erwin Tree Care’s contract for another $47,200 to remove 196 additional ash trees identified as infected by Dec. 31.
Trunks left over from the felling of the trees can be used because the emerald ash borer invades only the bark and first two rings of the trunk, said Russell Hodges, a certified arborist affiliated with Erwin Tree Care.
“Portable milling businesses can use these trunks,” he said. “Pallet companies use the wood for pallets and it’s still usable as firewood.”
The emerald ash borer destroys trees, starting in the canopy, Hodges said. The top of the tree begins to lose leaves and, over the next few years, the tree becomes bare and vulnerable to being toppled by strong winds, Hodges said.
After the insect has decimated trees in one area, it moves on, he said. The window for infestation is up to 12 years.
“Munster is being very proactive on this. The emerald ash borer has invaded every community from Columbus, Ind., north. You see these trees all over Northwest Indiana,” Hodges said.
The infected trees can create “a budgetary bubble” if towns wait to take them down, he said.
“The peak of the wave (of infestation) is years five, six and seven,” he said. “If a town waits to address this problem, it will cost four to five times more to remove those trees because they will have six to eight years of destroyed trees to remove.”
Both Munster and Crown Point are spreading out the expense of removing the infected trees “so it’s not a budget buster,” Hodges said.
The destroyed ash trees also create public safety hazards and liabilities for cities and towns, Hodges said.
“The Department of Natural Resources has been very diligent about tracking this infestation,” he said. “Every town in this area is going to have to remove these trees.”