Letter to Mayor Hagerty & Alderman of the City Council
May 22, 2020
Dear Mayor Hagerty and Aldermen of the City Council,
On behalf of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a community nonprofit of 2,700 members, and its program Natural Habitat Evanston, this is to ask you to fully fund the City Dutch elm treatment program. Cutting the program in half in the manner implemented raises many questions about its equity toward underserved neighborhoods, whether it is fiscally responsible, and how far-reaching the loss of Evanston’s big elms would be. In particular:
Public notice and opportunity to engage was poor, and not the openness Evanston aspires to. The city discussion in the April 27 city council meeting lead City Manager Erika Storlie and the listening public to think the program would be renewed. Then May 11 a new alternative was sketched and approved. This was disappointing and concerning.
Uncertain how many irreplaceable elms would be lost. In general, 10-40 treated elms die per year in Evanston, but there is no certainty how many elms will die under this plan. According to elm treatment expert Tom Prosser, delaying treatment until year 4 will kill many more elms because of the growing disease. Elm treatment is almost entirely effective at reaching the infected branches in the first 1-2 years, then reaches 85% of the targeted branches in the 3rd year and ‘likely’ reaches fewer than 25% in the 4th year, according to Mr. Prosser, CEO of Rainbow Treecare. He helped set up Evanston’s initial elm injection program and is responsible for setting up elm care programs nationwide including the treatment and care of elms on the National Mall and at the White House. The suggestion is that if the city waits to the 4th year (2021) to treat the skipped 908 elms, a 5-15% loss could kill 45-136 elms, plus the 34 that die on average.
Very unclear the council plan would save budget. Why go ahead with a plan that risks so many irreplaceable trees if we don’t even know that it would save budget? It costs @$2,000 to take down a big elm and $370 to plant a new tree. Assuming plantings are postponed for budget reasons, cutting down 136 elms would cost the city $272,400, virtually eliminating any budget savings; add replantings, and the cost for 136 new trees is $50,320. Budget savings gone. At the low end, a 5% loss would cost the city $106,700, also severely reducing budget savings. At a minimum, staff concede they really do not know how many elms will die from this plan. What is going on? How does this benefit staff or Evanston?
Longterm environmental justice damage to underserved communities. Regarding elm triage, the city will designate which elms would go untreated. When residents are aware the elms in front of their home will be untreated, wealthier residents could pay the average $382 treatment cost (as they have in the past). But poorer residents could not pay to save their elms. This proposal entirely ignores how it could possibly be implemented equitably. Further, the damage that will be done will persist, since small replacement trees (if they survive) could take many decades to restore the economic, health and climate benefits that these old elms provide. It is worth noting that the City EPlan Assessment of Needs (2016-2021) reported:
Poorer people have higher rates of asthma: 21% of residents with incomes under $49,999 reported asthma compared to 18% of residents with incomes over $100,000.
22% of Black or African American residents reported asthma compared to 18% of white residents.
Trees, especially big trees, are so important to help clean our air and offset these disparities. A big tree removes 60 to 70 times more pollution than a small tree.
Community Fund: the community cares about the unique character and economic value of Evanston elms. Evanston residents care about these old elms. They are working to set up a fund sponsored by Citizens’ Greener Evanston through the Evanston Community Foundation. The purpose of the Fund would not be to replace Evanston budget, but to demonstrate support for Evanston’s elms, with the proceeds used for elm treatment. Evanston’s old elms define the character of Evanston. You each appreciate the benefits of trees: mental and physical health, economic and property values, resilience to respiratory illnesses. See below for more on this.
Climate Action and Resilience. The Evanston Climate Action Plan encourages preserving Evanston trees, expanding the city urban canopy and increasing green infrastructure to mitigate carbon emissions and enhance the city’s resilience to stormwater flooding. Once again climate planning is not a high enough city priority to matter.
People and budget matter more than trees. Comments were made about the message that will be sent to city workers if an expensive tree program is funded. We acknowledge that concern. However, for workers and city residents to have faith in the process, budget decisions should be managed methodically, with input from all departments and making decisions that overall benefit Evanston. Cutting programs on the fly is not reassuring or equitable, and does not preserve the resources of Evanston.
Please reconsider and reverse the cut to the city elm treatment program. Fully fund the city elm treatment program. Thank you for your consideration, and all your work on behalf of our community.
President, Citizens’ Greener Evanston
Co-Lead, Natural Habitat Evanston
More information on the value of trees. You may be aware the Morton Arboretum list of the values of trees, including:
Trees capture air pollution particulates. You may be aware that in a City Health Assessment, 19% of Evanston residents reported that they had been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 12% in the state and 14% in the nation. We need trees in Evanston to help protect our residents, especially children who are particularly susceptible to pollutants and chemicals. A US Forest Service study found that owing to this particulate capture, trees saved on average one life per year in 10 cities studied, with 8 lives annually saved in New York City.
Trees reduce the costs of heating and cooling by blocking winds and shading homes, saving an average of 3% on energy. A big shade tree can lower the surrounding temperature by 10 - 15F, reducing the “heat island effect”. Trees serve this function not only for homeowners, but also for their neighbors.
Trees filter and help absorb stormwater and release moisture into our air. This stormwater management is particularly critical as climate disruptions threaten increasingly heavy rainfall events. The US Forest Service reports a mature tree intercepts 2,500 gallons rainfall per year. Trees also of course capture carbon and release oxygen.
Trees are calming. They reduce stress, promote healing, encourage community and improve safety. Studies have demonstrated neighborhoods with trees have lower domestic violence, less ‘road rage’, slower traffic, higher home values, enhanced shopping sales, healthier residents with lower blood pressure, enhanced worker productivity, and greater reported sense of safety; adolescents exhibit less aggressive behavior.
Letter to Mayor Hagerty & Evanston City Council Members from TREE & others.
May 20, 2020
Dear Mayor Hagerty & Members of the Evanston City Council:
It was with great disappointment that I watched your vote on Monday May 11, to NOT inject a significant portion of Evanston’s magnificent elm trees. I am convinced that had we had an opportunity for discussion and fact-sharing, you might have made a different decision. I believe this is especially important as it seems that the decision to hold off on injecting approximately 908 elm trees could lead to the loss of up to 136 trees this summer. These numbers are in addition to the approximately 1% of trees that would be lost in a typical year. As a result, this year, instead of spending money to inject trees, the City of Evanston will spend even more money to cut them down.
There are a few key matters related to your vote that I believe deserve your consideration.
Perhaps most importantly, it appears that the number of trees that are likely to die and require removal this summer was substantially understated. As indicated in the letter from Tom Prosser, which I submitted to each of you on May 11 and is included below, elm trees are most vulnerable to disease in year three of the injection cycle and at substantially increased risk in year four. In fact, I understand from city staff that most of the trees lost under the injection program are lost in year three, bearing out this premise.
Mr. Prosser is one of the foremost experts on elm tree care and helped set up Evanston’s initial injection program as well as many others across the nation. According to Mr. Prosser, “In the fourth year after treatment, the fungicide coverage in the tree drops significantly, likely to below 25% of the feeding sites.” Mr. Prosser tells us that by not injecting elm trees until year four, we can expect to lose 5-15% of them.
Based on his expertise and Evanston’s own past experience with elm tree loss, our actual numbers would look like this:
Total number of elms in the original contract: 1,815
Number of elms to be deferred (50%): 908
Number of elms likely to die and require removal at 5% loss rate: 45
Number of elms likely to die and require removal at 15% loss rate: 136
Cost to remove 45 trees: $135,000
Cost to remove 136 trees: $408,000
It’s important to note that the loss of these trees is NOT something we would expect to incur over a several year period. The loss would occur this year, requiring removal this year.
This is NOT a choice between whether to spend money on tree injections, or to spend those same dollars elsewhere, ideally helping people during this difficult time. The reality is that the choice is to spend money on tree injections, or to spend money on tree removals. We know without a doubt that many of the elm trees that have not been injected die and they die quickly.
The City of Evanston spends a significant amount of money paying overtime to members of the forestry department. If the department can’t get its current workload completed within its regular working hours, how will it manage to add the removal of up to 136 additional trees, plus whatever cut-outs need to be done to save trees, without incurring even greater overtime costs?
I understand that overtime expenses WITH a full elm tree injection program have been:
Won’t those numbers increase dramatically if a large number of elm trees have to be removed. During the height of the breakout in 2004, the forestry director Paul D’Agostino was reported in the news to have said that he had 15 crew members working six days a week. That was a huge expense for Evanston and one we cannot afford today.
I am also concerned about the way this entire process was handled. I don’t believe that Evanston residents were given proper notice that the Council was considering making an important change to the Elm Tree Injection program.
On April 27, 2020, the City Council rejected a staff option to only inject half the scheduled trees. It was reasonable for residents to assume that the vote on the contract would be a formality and approved when it came up for action at the next Council meeting on May 11, 2020. Evanston residents and members of TREE (To Rescue Evanston’s Elms) reasonably assumed that the program was on track to continue and that there was no need for them to contact their alderman or attend the meeting. In fact, as I recall, the May 11 meeting only had four citizens speaking, a number I don’t ever recall being so small at any previous Council meeting, and certainly not at one involving the elm care program. I believe that reflects that many citizens believed there was nothing unusual on the agenda.
Finally, if this vote stands, there are numerous questions that need to be addressed, including:
How will the deferred trees be selected? By size? Location? Ward?
How will the public be notified which trees are on the list?
Who on the City staff will manage the approval process and permitting for citizens who want to inject their public elms?
This recent record rainfall was a perfect example of why these majestic, mature elm trees are so important to our community. With many streets and basements flooded, we must recognize how much worse it would be without these huge trees and their significant capacity to absorb rainwater.
In conclusion, I am asking that you reconsider your vote to NOT inject all of the scheduled elm trees this year. While the cost of injection is significant, it will result in far fewer dollars spent than non-injection and removal. Elm tree removals as a result of NOT injecting them isn’t something that will happen next year, or five years down the road. The deaths will happen quickly, and will occur this summer.
The loss of our majestic elm trees, for which Evanston is nationally known, has a huge impact on our finances, our environment, our housing prices and the ambiance of our community. I urge you to reconsider your vote on this issue.
The bottom line here isn’t money spent on trees vs. money spent on people. The choice is whether the City of Evanston will spend money injecting trees to save them, or will choose to spend the funds cutting them down.
Thank you very much for your ongoing consideration.
TREE (To Rescue Evanston Elms)
Letter to Mayor Hagerty & Evanston City Council Members
May 11, 2020
Dear Mayor Hagerty & Evanston City Council Members;
It has come to my attention that the elm tree injection program is on the agenda for this evening’s City Council meeting. I am writing to encourage you to support adoption of the program to inject ALL of Evanston’s public elm trees, as has been done for the past 11 years.
About 20 years ago, I co-founded TREE – To Rescue Evanston Elms. At that time, Dutch Elm Disease was making a resurgence in our community and we were losing hundreds of our magnificent elm trees. From 1997 – 2005, Evanston lost at least 1,352 of our majestic elm trees. This at an estimated cost for labor, equipment, replacement etc. of more than $4,000,000.
Those of you who were involved at the time will remember that thousands of Evanston residents joined our cause in urging the Council to adopt an elm tree injection program. A big part of the reason was not only because it would save our beautiful trees, but because it would cost far less than what we spent cutting them down and replacing them.
At that time, thousands of Evanston residents signed petitions (actual hard copies), hundreds tied green ribbons and signs around our beloved elm trees, many joined news conferences and hundreds repeatedly attended Council Meetings. We received extensive media coverage from the Evanston Review to every Chicago media outlet to NPR, WTTW and more. The day the Council voted had the largest citizen turnout at a Council meeting that I have ever seen.
With a 98% plus effectiveness rate, our elm tree injection program has proven to be extremely successful and saved Evanston millions of tax dollars over the years. This is a program that Evanston residents support.
Before this program was adopted, small groups of Evanston residents were joining together to inject public elm trees on their block. The unfortunate result was that elm trees in the upper income areas of our city were being injected, while those in parks and middle and lower income neighborhoods were being lost. It was incredibly unfair and harmful to the environment, the parks, neighborhoods and the property values in the areas where those factors are especially important.
Elm trees are among the most hardy, shade providing, majestic trees we have in Evanston. A mature elm (most of ours are about 125 years old) provides the cooling effect of five air conditioners, absorbs excess rainwater, provides a home to wildlife and enhances our property value as they form a gorgeous, majestic canopy over our streets. With an expected life span of 400 plus years, these elm trees have a lot of life to give us. As someone with a mature elm tree and multiple disease resistant hybrid elm trees, I can tell you that the new trees don’t compare. They don’t provide the broad canopy or shade that our mature American elm trees provide.
During this time when government budgets are stretched beyond anything we could have expected, injecting our elm trees is the fiscally responsible thing to do. We can inject an elm tree for more than 30 years before we match the cost of removal. Just as importantly, the absence of these mature trees will change the character of our community and decrease property values (and subsequent property taxes) at a time when they are already under pressure.
Adopting a partial injection program or stretching out the length of time between injections will certainly endanger our trees and increase our costs – at a time when we can ill afford to undertake more expenses. My understanding from the foremost expert on elm tree injections in the country is that allowing elm trees to wait until the fourth year before injection will result in a drop in protection to less than 85%. That would bring a huge increase in the number of trees lost at a time when we can ill afford to spend money cutting down and replacing trees and diminishing property values.
Therefore, I urge you to maintain the full injection program.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Virginia V. Mann
To Rescue Evanston Elms
Letter from Rainbow Scientific
May 11, 2020
To whom it may concern:
My name is Tom Prosser and I am with Rainbow Scientific. I originally set up your elm program in 2004 that saw you losing 800 elms per year in 2001, 2002,and 2003 to losing less than 20 elms combined in the next 10 years throughout Evanston.
I understand like most cities, that the City of Evanston is in a budget crunch and you are looking for ways to save. That you are considering injecting ½ the trees this year and ½ next year. I will briefly explain below how the process works in the trees and what you risk.
First of all Dutch elm disease is a highly aggressive fungus that grows in the elms vascular tissue. It gets into the elm through a beetle that feeds in the 2-4 year old branches. The process of macro-infusion introduces 35 -80 gallons (depending on tree size) of a fungicide mixture that contains thiabendazole (trade name Arbotect) into the tree through the root flares. It is done in such a way as to completely cover ALL the 2-4 year old branches in the trees where the beetle feeds. Research has shown we can get 100% of these feeding sites covered for the first 2 years. In the third year, the coverage drops to about 85% of the feeding sites.
Thus we recommend treating every 3 years with a good scouting program to catch trees that get broken through in the 3rd season. In the fourth year after treatment, the fungicide coverage in the tree drops significantly, likely to below 25% of the feeding sites. This means the trees are highly susceptible to an infection that most likely will kill that tree. In addition, because of root grafts (trees roots connect underground and the disease can pass through) you also risk the surrounding trees being infected. The Arbotect does not protect from disease coming in from the roots and thus a trench will need to be cut.
If you do decide to wait another year (4 years after the last treatment) to treat ½ the trees – you will likely lose approximately 5% -15% of them depending on how well your city and surrounding cities manage the fungus in their area – which in many cases because of wild elms – is not very well. In this case, I would hire an additional staff to manage this and we (Rainbow) would work to train them as to minimize impact of disease carrying beetles not only in your city – but in the cities surrounding Evanston.
Rainbow Treecare Scientific