Area facing major depletion of maple trees over next several years

The golden yellow and vibrant reds of fall leaves are coming.
  A silver maple tree in distress
  in Homewood. Maple trees are
  dying throughout the Midwest.

  (Photos by Marilyn Thomas/
  H-F Chronicle)
But many residents are raising alarms about some of the trees on their property, and rightfully so. The beauty of tree canopies in Homewood and Flossmoor will be reduced over the next several years as silver maple, Norway maple, red maple and sugar maple trees die off.  
Bryon Doerr, landscaping and maintenance supervisor in the Homewood Public Works Department, said he’s had more than 300 residents call in the last five months asking what is happening to their trees and what can be done about it.
The trees are dying, and cuttings could be even more severe than what happened with the ash trees during the emerald ash borer infestation several years ago, Doerr said. He did a survey and estimated Homewood has 10,900 trees in the parkways. Of those, 38 percent are silver maple, or roughly 4,000 trees.
“If it keeps going, we’ll have almost 1,200 more trees to take down than we did ash. It will be more impactful,” he said, especially to neighborhoods south of 187th Street and east of Riegel Road. Doerr estimates more than 90 percent of the parkway trees in that area are silver maple.
In Flossmoor, Dave Becker, forestry maintenance technician, said the village will have taken down 150 parkway trees this year, and 80 percent of those are varieties of maple trees. He estimates about 40 percent are silver maples.
Doerr blames the tree loss to “a combination of cultural and environmental problems.” He said cultural is the needs of the plant and environmental is primarily the changing climate. 
Becker explained the cultural stress: “A lot of times the root system can’t support the tree because they’re on small parkways in compacted soil surrounded by asphalt and concrete. The roots just don’t have an ability to grow out into the soils and take up additional water and nutrients.”
Silver maples, native to Illinois, are a wetland tree, so droughts followed by torrential downpours are tough on the trees. Doerr said “every time we have a severe drought it takes 10 years for that plant to regrow that root system. So if we’re continually hit over and over with dry summers within a major drought they’re trying to recover from, the plant has a hard time keeping up with those because it’s using up that stored energy.” As the tree runs out of energy, it will die back.
  Silver maple leaves show
  black tar spots and decay.

Some residents have called with concerns of maple tar spot on the silver maple leaves. Doerr said that represents dying cells on the leaf caused by spores. It’s not contagious and doesn’t infest the tree and he doesn’t believe it’s connected to the silver maple decline.
Residents who have concerns about their trees can contact the Public Works office for Homewood at [email protected] and Flossmoor at 708-957-4100.  Both villages will remove problem trees in the parkways.  If there is no parkway, both villages will study property lines to determine if the tree is on public land and should be slated for removal.  Otherwise, taking the dying tree down is the responsibility of the homeowner.
Flossmoor has a contract for tree and stump removal, and for planting new trees, Becker said. The village recently received a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for its Student Conservation Association. Trees will be planted through 2019 by young adult volunteers who will help care for the trees until they are established. Residents can put their name on a list for one of these parkway trees.
Both Homewood and Flossmoor offer a 50/50 tree sharing program in fall and spring. Both communities are diversifying the trees in the program. Becker said native trees are primarily on order, including Kentucky coffee tree, Catalpa, bald Cyprus, sweetgum and oak.  Homewood is also looking at buckeye and river birch.
In Flossmoor only 40 homeowners ordered trees for the fall 2018 and spring 2019 plantings. That will not replenish the 150 trees removed this year and Becker admits “I’d like to see those numbers higher.”
Becker will work with employees from the water and street departments on tree issues. Flossmoor has a contact for tree and stump removal and tree planting. 
In Homewood, the Public Works Department has a four-member staff for landscaping and maintenance. Working with Doerr are Doug Hank and Aaron Meyer. All three are certified arborists. The newest team member, Melanie Hamilton, is in training.
Doerr has done a drive through Homewood and is making charts of the worst trees that will need to come down immediately. Most tree removal and trimming work takes place from Nov. 1 through approximately April 1.
Doerr said the magnitude of the silver maple problem will require attention over several years. When residents notify Public Works, the tree will be put on a list for removal. He asks residents to please be patient. Some trees may show stress but still be healthy enough to remain on the property for another year or two.
The village will hire a crew for trees with big canopies, but Doerr estimates 60 to 70 percent of the take-down work will be done by Public Works. Doerr said he, Hank and Meyer took down 2,800 ash trees over five years “with not one accident, major equipment failure or damage to private property. We’re pretty proud of that.”

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