Madison is a shady town.
I mean that in the best possible way.
Trees line our streets and public spaces, providing crucial shade during those hot summer months. It may not seem like it now, but there are times when Madisonians want relief from all the direct sunlight around them.
For years, though, there's been a tiny but ominous threat looming over our city's trees. The emerald ash borer has been tearing across the eastern half of the U.S., leaving local governments with only two choices: cut down ash trees or use incredibly expensive chemical sprays.
Much of Madison's tree stock is made of ash trees, many planted at a time when the major arbor blight was Dutch Elm Disease. The emerald ash borer has been in Wisconsin since 2008, and it was only a matter of time before it made its way into our neighborhoods. City of Madison officials wisely used their prep time to come up with an emerald ash borer plan, which was structured around detection of susceptible trees.
Last Tuesday, when many were getting ready for Thanksgiving, it was confirmed that the emerald ash borer has finally made its way to Dane County.
Now, the city will put its plan into effect, which will include the removal of many ash trees from parks and other public spaces. Laura Whitmore, community relations coordinator for Madison Parks, says that tree removal has already started. But the city won't know the exact number of trees that will need to be removed until its assessment is complete.
Even with an ongoing assessment, residents can check their street or aldermanic district to see how many ash trees are in their neighborhood. For many parts of the city, their removal is going to bring about a big change in the landscape. (View maps of susceptible trees in District 2 on the near east side and District 5 on the near west side to see how widespread they are in these neighborhoods.)
For trees with historical significance, or maybe just someone's favorite tree in a neighborhood park, Madison Parks will also offer an Adopt-a-Tree program where citizens can pay to have individual public trees sprayed with expensive chemicals to stop ash borer infection.
"We will have details [on the Adopt-a-Tree program] later this winter. Nothing can happen with the program until spring as that's when treatment can begin," says Whitmore in an email response to a query.
While Madison is going to lose a lot of shade over the next few years, Parks staff will be replanting new trees in the affected areas.
"The type of tree depends on location. Like with any replanting along a street or a park, the location is assessed and the species is appropriately chosen," says Whitmore, "Like all other municipalities, the key to success is urban forest diversity."
The city's plan is limited to public trees. Whitmore encourages homeowners with private trees to check a homeowner's toolkit that the city has assembled.
While Madison Parks is dealing with this situation in the best way possible, given fiscal and environmental concerns, it is still going to be painful to see so many of the city's trees disappear. When we're on the flipside of the calendar and the sun is beating down, those replacement saplings won't grow fast enough to provide the shade we're seeking.