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Student takes action against tree removal

Brad Thompson holds onto a tree as dirt is brought in as city crews replant trees at Kelly Park in Superior in early May. (Jed Carlson/

A student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior is taking action against the city’s plan to manage emerald ash borer.

Mikayla Haynes, a freshman biology major, started a public petition against the plan in early April. She wants the city to postpone cutting down ash trees, to allow maturation of urban species nesting in ash trees.

“I thought I should do something because organisms that thrive in and on these trees will lose their habitat therefore creating a possibility for the decline in other species … as well,” Haynes said. “These organisms include birds, raccoons, squirrels … insects and other tree-thriving animals that are vital to the local ecosystem.”

The plan adopted by the City Council calls for removing all 3,000 ash trees in city parks and boulevards over six years. Removal started late last summer after the discovery of emerald ash borer was confirmed in Superior’s North End. Tree removal moved to the neighborhoods that include the university this spring.

Susan Stanich, communicating arts senior lecturer at UWS said Haynes obviously felt strongly about the issue.

“I suggested that if she wanted to affect the city’s policy, she could start her own grassroots campaign because government officials pay attention when the public speaks up,” Stanich said. “She took it from there.”

Emerald ash borer, which was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, has killed millions of ash trees in 20 states and two Canadian provinces. Larvae of the beetle destroy the trees vascular system, which brings water and nutrients to the crown. The mortality rate for ash trees is typically 100 percent 12 years after the introduction of the beetle in the area — it’s believed the beetle was in Superior about five years before it was discovered.

The plan states “it is attempting to ease the disruption to its urban forest caused by the invasion of emerald ash borer. Taking a proactive approach will enable the city to address public and private needs in an efficient and effective manner.”

Once the trees start to die, they become a public safety hazard.

“When the ash tree reaches the 7th or 8th year of life then it becomes a dead ash tree threat,” said Mary Morgan, parks, recreation and forestry director. “The trees start to fall over. We don’t want trees falling down on people, streets and cars.”

Haynes said cutting down the trees won’t allow animals to successfully raise their young. Squirrels wouldn’t be able to nest and birds wouldn’t have enough time to change locations to build a nest before laying their eggs.

Haynes talked to a number of people who also disagree with the city’s plan. She started taking her petition to public locations with the hope more people would be against it.

The objective behind the petition was to sustain regular reproductive cycles of urban ash tree nesting wildlife by delaying the removal of the trees. “These organisms are an important part of the ecosystem that keeps everything in balance; the way seeds are dispersed throughout the city and outskirts, organism control such as pesky insects and rodents,” Haynes said. “As for the squirrels, they have two litters a year so the tree cutting would not harm them in the process, however the same population size would be competing for a lesser amount of trees for shelter.”

Nearly 75 people signed the petition with about 26 signatures from UWS students.

“At this point, the signatures for this petition are no longer needed since the plan is postponed,” Haynes said.

Tree removal is expected to resume in June.

The city forester, arborist, and Parks and Recreation staff suspended removal but not because of the petition.

“They will have to conduct a spring cleanup, continue to remove hazardous trees, mow grass and complete their regularly scheduled park and recreation tasks,” Morgan said.

Even though the plan is on hold, Haynes isn’t giving up.

“As of right now I am trying to gather enough valid research of my own to see if there is another way to prevent the intense plan from proceeding while also preventing the emerald ash borer from advancing, however no findings yet,” she said.

Treatment is one option, but proved cost-prohibitive for the city.

There were 3,000 ash trees in Superior. Officials have 2,500 trees left to cut down, which doesn’t include ash trees in the Superior Municipal Forest or growing on private property.

New trees such as maple, Kentucky coffee and elm are being planted at sites where ash trees were cut down.

People do have an option to treat city ash trees at their own expense, but must get a free tree permit from the city. Call 715-395-7270 for a permit or information.