Citizens’ Greener Evanston (CGE) and TREE (To Rescue Evanston Elms) celebrate a generous November donation of $10,000 from Rainbow Tree Care for the CGE Fund for Evanston’s Trees. 

Rainbow Tree Care has been an ardent supporter of our efforts to save Evanston's magnificent elm trees.  The fund is now at $26,000 – $12,000 short of the $38,000 goal. To encourage Evanston’s residents to contribute to the fund, an anonymous donor has established a 1:1 match for donations up to $5,000 received between now and year-end. 

The Fund for Evanston Trees, administered by Evanston Community Foundation, was established to help the City pay for this year’s treatment of public elm trees for Dutch elm disease.  If the fund is successful in raising more than its goal, the money will go for tree planting. 

It was the elm trees in Evanston that started me on my series of articles in the RoundTable about Evanston’s parkway trees back in 2004, and that led to my series of articles on birds. 

At the time, TREE was advocating for injection of all elms to protect them from Dutch elm disease, and I wondered, if you were unfortunate enough to lose a parkway elm, what species could you choose from to replace it.

Not that a mature majestic American elm could be “replaced,” in any sense of the word, by a small tree, even one of the elms that have been cultivated to be resistant to Dutch elm disease.  Not the same shade, not the same vase-like shape, not the same carbon storage, not the same anything. More important would be to take steps to avoid the loss of these majestic beauties.

Some History

Evanston’s urban forest is a beneficiary of planners who, a century and a half ago, envisioned a beautiful city with tree-lined streets. Under the supervision of Dr. Philo Judson, then the business agent of the fledgling Northwestern University, large numbers of young American elms were planted along city streets when Evanston was barely a town.

The plan was to add elms along parkways in each new section of the growing City. The elm saplings came from the “Big Woods,” a large forested tract mostly in today’s Sixth ward. 

Remnants of the Big Woods are the Forest Preserve’s Perkins Woods and in Isabella Woods.  Sixty-plus years later, their efforts were appreciated in the 1917 Evanston Small Parks and Playgrounds Association Plan of Evanston. 

“Evanston has indeed been fortunate in possessing a class of citizens who had a vision of the future in tree culture. … In view of the immense benefits conferred on the people of this generation through the far-sighted wisdom of the men of the past, we should regard our trees as a priceless heritage, and their conservation as of the utmost importance. If one thing above all others symbolizes the domestic charm of Evanston it is the trees which are its outstanding natural feature. Very little credit is due to us of the present generation; we reap whereof we have not sown. Not only this, but we are squandering our patrimony.” 

They had charm in mind. The beneficial contributions of trees, as we understand today, go well beyond charm to include their importance to our mental and physical health, and countless advantages to the planet such as tempering climate change and storing carbon.

 

Those early planners could not have foreseen the introduction of an elm bark beetle from Eurasia. The beetle was firmly established in the U.S. by the 1940s and was discovered in Evanston in 1957. 

Elm bark beetles overwinter in American elms. If the tree in which they overwinter is infected, a fungus that normally resides in the tree reacts by creating sticky balls of spores that cling to the adults and larvae when they emerge in spring and fly to a healthy tree.

The diseased fungus blocks the normal functioning of the tree.  Once a tree is infected, the beetle is no longer needed: The fungus spreads to a nearby elm through the roots.

After a relatively quiescent period, during which city forester Dennis Ceplecha initiated a program of removing diseased branches of otherwise healthy elms, disaster struck in 2004. For uncertain reasons, elms began to die in record numbers. 

TREE was formed to advocate for injecting trees with a newly-available fungicide that lasts for three years. To publicize the need, members of TREE wrapped green ribbons around mature elms. 

An early recommendation was that residents pay to inject their parkway trees, clearly impossible for many residents. City-funded injection of elms on public land became standard operating procedure starting in 2005 – that is, until early 2020, when the City faced a budget shortfall.

As luck would have it, all of Evanston’s elms treated by an outside contractor happened to be up for their three-year immunization in 2020, for a projected total of more than $600,000.  An easy way to cut the budget appeared to be to eliminate or reduce the line item for injection of elm trees.

As residents pointed out, however, those potential savings were an illusion. With no treatment or even less-frequent treatment, the City would have to pay to have the dead elms removed. As any homeowner knows, the cost of removing a large tree will set you back an average of $2000. 

If just 300 of the non-injected trees were to die, that cost to the City would be … $600,000. And then there is the cost of planting a replacement. The City Council wisely voted to protect the elms.  Acknowledging the budget crunch, CGE offered to raise $38,000 for the City elms.

Those interested in participating in the 1:1 donor match may send a check to Evanston Community Foundation with “Fund for Evanston Trees” in the memo line to:

Evanston Community Foundation, 

1560 Sherman Avenue, Suite 535

Evanston, IL 60201

Or visit https://evanstonforever.org/giving/give-now/ and enter “Fund for Evanston Trees” in the ‘other’ box. There is a 2.2% processing fee for credit card donations.