Blaine officials handed down the death sentence about four years ago.
It was a cruel-to-be-kind moment.
With emerald ash borer chewing its way through neighboring Shoreview, Blaine officials could wait for the pestilence to arrive or start chopping down ash trees and replacing them before the pest devastated the city’s canopy.
This spring, Blaine residents can expect to hear the buzz of chain saws as city crews continue their ash tree removal and replacement efforts. The goal is to remove 5,000 to 7,000 ash trees along boulevards and in parks in the next decade and replace them with a diverse mix of trees. So far they’ve removed about 1,500 ash trees. Blaine City Forester and Parks Department Supervisor Marc Shippee said crews could take down 75 ash trees this spring — time permitting. (The same city crews also handle potholes.)
Cutting trees may sound extreme, but chemically treating thousands of individual trees every other year is too expensive, Shippee said. Ash trees were planted in abundance by developers in the mid-1980s through the ’90s. They’re cheap, and they grow quickly.
The city — learning from the mistakes other communities made during the Dutch elm disease epidemic — determined they were better off diversifying now.
Other northern suburbs including Lino Lakes also have launched pre-emptive strikes, taking out ash trees before the metallic-green beetles have even been found in Anoka County.
Crews will replant trees in the fall. Residents can decline the replacement of a boulevard tree in front of their homes. About half do, Shippee said. Some say they have enough leaves to rake. Others bristle when they can’t choose their tree.
“If you give people an option, they will all ask for an Autumn Blaze maple. One of the objectives of the program is to increase the diversity of the tree population along the boulevards,” Shippee said. “We have selected 10 to 12 species of trees, and we randomly put them out there.”