October 10, 2014

Midway trees ambushed by ash borer beetles

The Midway Plaisance retains a quiet air of significance—as the longest stretch of green space within the University, it serves as a community space for students. While the grass on the Midway is here to stay, the emerald ash borer beetle is ravaging the Plaisance perimeter and killing off the ash trees lining the lawn.

The beetle has damaged half a mile of trees, and according to Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, director of communications for the Chicago Park District, all of the dead trees will be felled in mid-November to be replaced by a new type of tree in the spring of 2015.

Faulkner said that the Park District decided it made more sense to remove the trees than to protract their decline. “While [other] entities have chosen to inoculate trees [to slow the infestation], this will only prolong the life of the tree, but will not cure the problem. The diseased trees will die eventually.”

According to Jerry Levy, a volunteer steward of the Chicago Park District and certified TreeKeeper—a position gained through coursework and a test—approximately 50 trees are slated for removal. This means that the space will be largely devoid of trees at least until this spring. Even when the new trees are planted, they will take a long time to grow to the level of the current trees.

Despite the Midway’s location in the middle of campus, University Facilities Services said that upkeep for the Midway falls under the purview of the Chicago Park District. This could pose a financial problem, since Levy contends that the University tends to have a greater storehouse of funds than city government does for landscape upkeep. Still, the Park District intends to make the requisite changes to the Midway and the trees surrounding it.

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier suggested that the University plans to take on more of a consulting role and “will support and offer input as needed.” Ultimately, “decisions about management of the Plaisance landscape belong to the city,” Mary Abowd, spokesperson for the Office of Campus and Student Life, said.

The Midway ash tree infestation is part of a larger problem for ash trees in Hyde Park, and its effects can be detected throughout the area. Because of the outbreak, “there is going to be a significant loss,” Levy lamented.