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Helena announces efforts to remove and replace thousands of green ash trees

HELENA – The City of Helena announced today a large forestry initiative to remove and replace the majority of green ash trees.

The City’s decision for the removal is due to the rise of emerald ash borer bugs in the United states which can decimate the Green Ash trees.

The City’s lead arborist Chris Daly said that although the insects have yet to reach Montana, they’re are as close as South Dakota and Colorado meaning Helena needs to be prepared.

“We’re attempting to be proactive about this rather than reactive,” explained Daly, “and it will mean less that we have to react to when the infestation gets here– which according to all industry professionals is not a matter of ‘if’ it’s a matter of ‘when’.”

Currently, there are around 6,600 green ash trees in Helena, which makes up about 60% of the entire Helena urban forest.

Due to the scope of the project, the City will be hiring two additional full-time arborists to help address the issue.

“We need to be proactive and not wait until we have a problem; we need to prevent the problem,” said Ana Cortez, Helena City Manager. “We are not experimenting with anything new here. We are basically implementing the things that work and have worked in other cities.”

Crews will only be focusing on unhealthy trees or ones that are connected to other planned projects.

“We’ll be targeting trees that would be targeted for removal anyways. Trees with a higher than acceptable level of risk. Trees that are already dead or in decline or otherwise defective. So it’s not just a slash and burn program,” explained Daly.

Daly added as long as they have agreement from the adjacent landowners to care for new trees, all the removed green ash will be replaced.

“With our normal pruning cycle, I’ve been able to plant more trees than we removed on pretty much every street that we’ve done,” said Daly.

The removed trees will be replaced with other species with the goal of eventually having no tree species represent more than 10% of the population
The cost of the green ash removal is estimated around $9 million but the City hopes to reduce those costs by removing trees at the same time as other projects.

“One approach that we’re taking, because clearly there’s not enough money to do everything at once, is whenever we have a street or sidewalk project– for example– where trees will be affected, if it’s green ash we will bring them down,” explained Cortez. “This is one way of minimizing the costs.”

The City plans on beginning recruitment efforts for the arborists beginning in July.

John Riley

John Riley

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