Trees in Shoshone Park infested by the Emerald Ash Borer are being cut down. (Jane Kwiatkowski Radlich/Buffalo News)

Shoshone Park, which once had a thick canopy of green leaves, is losing its trees.

The culprit is the emerald ash borer, a destructive and prolific insect that already has destroyed thousands of trees in its death march through 25 states as far west as Colorado.

The insect’s effect at Shoshone Park is particularly devastating because the majority of the park’s trees are ash trees. At one time, Shoshone’s tree canopy was so thick it obscured the park from street view, Rasheed Wyatt said. Wyatt played baseball there as a teenager. Now he is the University District councilman.

“It’s really going to be like day and night,” Wyatt said, comparing the result to the devastation of the October Surprise Snowstorm.

Fifteen ash trees have already been removed from Shoshone, with another 55 scheduled to be cut down by next spring, said Andrew R. Rabb, deputy commissioner for Parks and Recreation.

“The city’s plan is to remove the oldest and largest trees first,” said Rabb. “The process of removing the dead trees and replacing them with a variety of species is expected to take several years.”

Tree take-downs are occurring throughout Erie County, home to 24.4 million ash trees – or one tree in five, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In Buffalo, ash trees aren’t as common. There are about 1,000 ashes planted along streets with more in the parks – about 1 percent of the city’s total tree population.

Ash trees already have been cut down in Olmsted Parks, Rabb said,

The plan for the removal of 70 ash trees from Shoshone Park was relayed Monday at 1978 Hertel Ave. during a community meeting at the Gloria J. Parks Center.

Still, people visiting the park this week expressed shock as city crews used chain saws and high lifts to cut down the trees.

Nadine Waiters visits the park each day. As site supervisor for the Board of Education’s Summer Food Service Program, she distributes lunch from a park bench that used to be shaded by the mature ash trees. She was recently asked to move the lunch distribution to another part of the park to reduce the possibility of injury to the children.

“This park won’t be right,” the 59-year-old food service worker said. “This used to be beautiful. They had a fountain over there, and the water used to shoot out like at Martin Luther King Park.”

Wyatt described an aggressive replacement plan sponsored by the city and the University Heights Tool Library.

“Twenty trees are expected to be in the ground this year followed by 40 in 2017 and 20 in 2018,” Wyatt said.

Removing trees is costly whether on municipal property or in a resident’s backyard. In Amherst, one resident paid $4,000 to have 22 mature ash trees removed from his yard. One Lancaster small-business owner faced a $15,000 bill if he were to remove 250 sick ash trees from a three-acre parcel.

Treating trees with systemic insecticides costs on average $200 for a treatment that should be repeated every two years.

Buffalo stopped planting ash trees around 2002 when the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer was reported in Detroit, where the insect first surfaced, said Rabb.

Shoshone Park, recognized as home field for the North Buffalo Baseball League, is expected to receive a $100,000 face lift that includes reconstruction of the basketball courts, conversion of the tennis courts into a street hockey court and the installation of new park benches, said Wyatt.

The improvements are expected to be completed this year. People interested in submitting improvement ideas can contact rwyatt@city-buffalo.com.

Henry Ford, 70, of Saranac Avenue didn’t want to think about a park without trees.

“I didn’t know they were diseased,” said Ford, a retired autoworker who sat with his grandson Emil Brannon. “I guess it’s better to take them down if they have disease, you know.”

email jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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