The subject of trees can be surprisingly emotional. Even when the trees don’t specifically belong to you — those trees out in the parkway belong to the village not to the homeowner whose house they shade — you get attached. 

“That’s our tree,” you say. When it turns bright red or purple or orange or gold in the fall, you inevitably turn to your spouse and say, “Doesn’t our tree look great?”

Over the past couple of years in Riverside and in Brookfield this year in particular, “our tree” — if it’s an ash tree — is a goner. Maybe not this year, but within the next five years, for sure.

That’s got some folks upset. Although two-thirds of Brookfield’s public ash trees are already too far gone to save, there remains that one third apparently untouched by the emerald ash borer.

Maybe it missed our tree. Let’s save it.

The truth is the emerald ash borer larvae are probably already inside the branches, burrowing their way through the wood. Those are dead trees, standing. 

The best choice at this stage is to remove them when the time comes and get on reforesting Brookfield for the future as quickly as possible.

Urban forestry has come a long way since Samuel E. Gross planted rows of elm trees along the streets — Grand Boulevard was one majestic cathedral of elms from 31st Street to Brookfield Avenue at one time.

Then came Dutch elm disease and entire swaths of the village were deforested. Many of those elms were replaced by ash trees, a quick-growing specimen that did well in an urban setting.

Some 1,300 ash trees were planted in Brookfield. In four years, it’s likely all of them will be gone.

The good news is that in the past couple of decades municipal foresters have changed practices. No longer are villages overrun with vulnerable single specimens like elms and ashes. The tree inventory is diverse and growing more diverse every year.

The loss of the ash trees in such large numbers over such a short period of time will be jarring in some areas, like Hollywood and the northwest corner of the village, where ashes are plentiful.

Some have called for the village to try treating the ashes that haven’t yet displayed die-back with chemicals that keep the emerald ash borer in check. North Riverside has been treating its trees for many years and has had success.

Treating trees, however, must be done annually and, in our mind, is throwing good money after bad. That money can be better spent buying new trees for reforestation. The day of the ash, at least on public lands, is over in Brookfield.

It may make sense for a homeowner to try and prolong the life of an ash on private property (removing mature specimens is truly expensive), but the village needs to look at what’s in the best interest of the tree stock moving forward.

The sooner the ashes are removed, the sooner new, more varied species can be planted and begin to claim their places in Brookfield’s urban forest.

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