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EAB trees

Trees in city parks and along streets that are slated to be removed due to the emerald ash borer are marked with yellow or orange dots.

Felled wood from Madison’s infected urban canopy could see new life as works of art through a Madison Community Foundation-funded initiative.

Through the Phoenix from the Ashes project, trees that were cut down because of emerald ash borer will be reclaimed, milled and made available to artists to create decorative or functional art.

Karin Wolf, the city’s arts program administrator, said the idea is to “transform the wood into demonstration projects to show the potential for reclamation of urban wood.”

The project is a partnership between Madison Parks, Wisconsin Urban Wood, the Madison Arts Commission and the foundation, which has committed $75,000.

“Phoenix from the Ashes is a model of effective collaboration that builds on Madison’s legacy as a green city with forward-thinking leadership,” Madison Community Foundation President Bob Sorge said. “While the emerald ash borer’s impact on our city’s tree canopy is devastating, our community now has an uplifting story of the social, economic and ecological benefits of conservation and renewal.”

The arts commission will identify 10 local artists through an application process who will receive a $1,500 grant and have their work exhibited at the Overture Center in September 2019. The deadline to apply is June 1.

If the artists are interested, Wolf said the city could partner on public art or infrastructure projects.

Emerald ash borers are half-inch long insects that are infecting trees across Wisconsin. In fact, the state was placed under quarantine for EAB as of March 30. The pests grow under tree bark in their larval state, harming the tree’s vessels that carry water and nutrients, and then bore through the tree in a small hole.

Park operations manager Lisa Laschinger said processing the wood removes any concern that the insects will spread.

“Any time that we have a chance to repurpose materials from the parks like this it’s a good idea,” Laschinger said. “I think it’s great to bring the natural element to the art.”

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Ash trees make up 22 percent of the city’s street trees. So far, 6,200 trees have been preemptively removed with a planned 4,500 left to go, according to an update in January.

The decimation of so many trees has caused grief in the community, Wolf said. She hopes the art project will create meaning from the loss of trees.

“Here we are confounded by the loss of the trees even if we know logically that they have this disease and they'll have to come down,” Wolf said. "The visual impact is pretty shocking.”

Approximately 3,065 trees have been replaced. Nearly half of all tree replacements in the city each year are to replace trees affected by emerald ash borer.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.