The emerald ash borer has changed Bud Clark’s tree care company as much as it has the landscapes of the communities where he works.

Serving the wooded upscale suburbs north of Chicago, Canopy Tree Specialists’ traditional focus has been on the trimming and preservation of trees. It’s the type of work Clark, a certified arborist, loves.

Over the past two years, however, about 75 percent of the company’s jobs have involved removing ash trees due to the destruction caused by the emerald ash borer.

Last year, Canopy Tree Specialists’ four-person crew took down 500 ash trees at a single site. In one day this past June, they removed 37 trees.

That’s made for good business in the short term, but removing those trees means they won’t be there for maintenance and plant health care services in the future.

“The emerald ash borer has been a pro and a con, a double-edged sword,” Clark says.

A large section of trees where EAB damage is widespread.

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Start planning

Tree care professionals should start their planning now for how they will respond to EAB, says Tchukki Andersen, an International Society of Arboriculture Board Certified Master Arborist.

A short-term strategy could include offering treatments to protect ash trees and being prepared to do more removals as ash trees become too afflicted to save. Insecticides have shown promise in protecting ash trees, but not all property owners will treat their trees, and the pest continues to spread.

Andersen also warns tree care professionals to be prepared to compete with fly-by-night contractors for those removals. Canopy Tree Specialists has dealt with that in the Chicago area.

“It’s the new gold rush,” Clark says. “Anybody that can afford to go out and get a little bit of equipment, they’re starting to take down ash trees.”

Review business models

This ash tree suffered extensive EAB damage.

Longer term, companies should review their business models and explore ideas on how to adjust after the emerald ash borer has either been controlled or has moved through their area, Andersen says.

Kramer Tree Specialists—another Chicago-area tree care business that’s dealing with the emerald ash borer—has already started doing that. Owner Joe Kramer says pruning, plant care health services and cable bracing of ash trees made up a significant portion of his company’s business. They had to figure out how to replace that work.

In response, they’ve started increasing their exposure to commercial and industrial clients, who are less affected by the emerald ash borer than residential customers. Kramer also is expecting there to be a lot of tree planting to replace the lost ash trees. He says his company cannot compete with the landscape industry for many of those jobs, but Kramer Tree Specialists has tree spades that allow his crews to plant larger trees, which gives them a niche service.

“We expect the tree spades to be very busy over the next two to four years,” Kramer says.

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