Mayor Lauds City’s Gains Over Tree-Trimming Backlog

The mayor announced Thursday the city's Bureau of Forestry would plant 3,000 new trees this year. (Streets and Sanitation Department)The mayor announced Thursday the city's Bureau of Forestry would plant 3,000 new trees this year. (Streets and Sanitation Department)

Amid public outcry over police oversight, rising crime and uncertainty surrounding the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some good news for city residents on Thursday.

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The city has reduced its backlog of tree-trimming requests by nearly 80 percent, the mayor said, and is on pace to eliminate that buildup entirely by the end of the year.

In 2014, the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Bureau of Forestry, the agency responsible for managing all trees in the public way, had a backlog of 28,000 outstanding tree-trimming requests dating back two years. As of today, the city said it's handling about 6,000 unresolved tree trimming requests – all submitted within 2016 – that it intends to fulfill by the end of tree-trimming season, which runs from May through November.

To help tackle that goal, 10 new tree trimming crews, typically composed of two city workers, will be added to the bureau later this summer thanks to money the department saved from switching to a grid-based, regional garbage pickup system three years ago.

“By ensuring tree trim requests are answered as quickly as possible, we are saving money for our taxpayers, improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods and protecting the health and vibrancy of the urban canopy for years to come," Emanuel said in a press release issued Thursday.

The mayor also announced Thursday the start of this year’s seasonal pesticide treatment of public ash trees to ward off the invasive Emerald ash borer, which has killed millions of ash trees in North America. The bureau has treated more than 61,000 ash trees since it began its inoculation program in 2013 and plans to treat 30,000 more trees this year. All treated trees are deemed viable, meaning they either haven't been infected or if they have, there's still a chance to save them.

Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Regional Trees Initiative at Morton Arboretum, said that nearly 13 million trees in the region have been lost to Emerald ash borer. The comments were made during a broadcast of “Worldview” on WBEZ in April.

Scott also said during the broadcast that the number of trees in Chicago pales in comparison to some other U.S. cities. “The reality is, Chicago has about 15 percent tree canopy and the national average is about 27 [percent], so we have a long way to go,” she said.

To diversify the urban canopy, the mayor said the bureau will plant 3,000 new trees belonging to 66 different species this year. There are 157 million trees in the seven-county region, according to a 2010 census conducted in 2010 by the Morton Arboretum, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service.

If you spot a tree along the public right-of-way that needs trimming, removal or an ash tree at risk of Emerald ash borer infestation, you can request service by calling 311 or inquiring online. The bureau will respond immediately to emergency requests, like a dead branch at risk of falling on pedestrians; non-emergency requests are addressed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Rebecca Palmore contributed.

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