QUINCY -- Members of the Quincy Tree Commission had strong reactions Thursday after reviewing photos detailing how a treatment designed to prevent the spread of emerald ash borer was damaging ash trees.
Sarah Fernandez, commission chairman, said she was "appalled" by the photos that showed mature trees with loose bark and calluses encircling the injection sites.
Fernandez's colleague, Marcia Doughtery, said she now believes the city's contractor, Trees R Us, "looks like they are destroying the trees they are supposed to be protecting."
As previously reported in The Herald-Whig, city officials and with the Illinois Department of Agriculture confirmed that the invasive insect, which is the alleged cause of death for more than "hundreds of millions of ash trees in the United States," had been located in Quincy in June 2017. Since then, city officials have sought bids from independent contractors to use a highly potent pesticide on 400 of the city's estimated 1,200 ash trees.
Scott Shirmer, a plant and pesticide specialist with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said the treatments, while experimental, are designed for an applicator to drill into the trunk of a tree and pump the pesticide into it.
Shirmer, who works in DeKalb, was in Quincy on Thursday and visited several of the trees that have been treated by Trees R Us.
"It is quite apparent, as you can tell by the photos, that it looks like something is going on during the application," Shirmer said. He added that none of the other test cities for the pesticide had reported this kind of damage to the state agriculture department.
He then advised the Tree Commission to ask the contractor what equipment was being used and to check with the manufacturer of the pesticide to see what the specific requirements are for the application equipment.
He said he also had questions whether the pesticide was reaching its intended target, which is five layers of cells just below the surface of the bark.
"Is the product actually getting in the tree efficiently and thoroughly, or does it go back out and get spilled in between the layers? That is the biggest question I have," Shirmer said.
If the pesticide is not reaching those layers, he said he doubts the effectiveness of the treatment.
"The emerald ash borer needs to actually ingest the chemical in order to kill it," he said.
As for the trees treated by the city's contractor, Shirmer said they may recover but will be weakened and more susceptible to other infestations.
"They will probably be OK," he said. "There are now added risks with these open wounds that could create an opening for termites, carpenter ants, funguses, and these treatments could still cause additional damage that we can't see right now. From a structural standpoint, ash trees are tough as nails, so they will likely be OK."
At the request of the Tree Commission, Shirmer will draft a memo detailing his findings and submit it to the city. Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning and development, said he will forward the memo to the contractor.
"I will send Trees R Us, our contractor, this email and let them know it is our feeling that the pressure or injection method is not occurring and that they are actually damaging trees," Bevelheimer said. "They will need to resolve this prior to May's treatment cycle."
Bevelheimer said the contractor is on the second year of a two-year contract. As part of that contract and previous contractors, Trees R Us has been paid more than $33,000 for its services, according to previous articles in The Herald-Whig.
"I want to see if they can help us resolve this," Bevelheimer said.
So does Quincy Tree Commission member Bob Terstriep, who said he is frustrated by the tree damage. He said he hopes residents will come to share his frustration when they learn about the damage.
"These are your tax dollars that went into the treatment of that tree, and now we're not sure if the chemical is actually going into the tree," Terstriep said. "Remember, you paid for this, and now we're not sure if it is going into the tree or just running into the soil."