Jun 28, 2022 - News

Twin Cities stumped by tree stump removal backlog

A stump covered in vegetation
A stump on Nick's boulevard overun by vegetation. Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

Stumps are starting to proliferate Minneapolis and St. Paul boulevards as city park departments struggle to keep up with their tree removal programs.

Driving the news: The current wait period for stump removal after a tree is cut down is about 3 or 4 years, and the backlog could get worse.

Why it matters: It's not a huge deal — the stumps are mostly just an eye sore — but the backlog is evidence of how costly and time consuming it's been for cities to deal with the invasive emerald ash borer beetle that has wiped out trees all over the state.

State of play: There is currently a backlog of nearly 2,700 stumps to grind in Minneapolis, but that number is expected to grow to 6,000 by the end of the year, according to numbers provided by the Park Board's forestry department.

  • It costs about $200 for contractors in Minneapolis to grind a stump, so it will cost $500,000 to get rid of the current backlog and $1.1 million to get rid of the projected backlog over the next five months.
  • The Park Board's budget only covers about 40% of stump grinding costs. If funding isn't increased, the stump backlog will reach nearly 12,000 by 2025, according to the Park Board.

Between the lines: The Park Board just wrapped up an eight-year program to remove 40,000 Ash trees — almost every Ash tree on city property — due to the borer beetles. Ash trees once accounted for 20% of the city’s canopy before the beetles arrived in 2010.

  • The Park Board prioritized removing the trees and replanting new ones in order to rebuild the city's canopy, bumping stump grinding down the priority list.

The other side of the river: St. Paul has a 4,000-stump backlog and similar wait times for grinding. A city spokesperson said an $18 million funding partnership with the St. Paul Port Authority aims to have the backlog down to zero by the end of 2025.

What we're watching: Stumps, especially Ash stumps, still have live root systems and keep growing after the tree is gone, said Park Board forestry director Ralph Sievert.

  • "So you end up with what looks like a bush growing out of the stump. It's not only that it's annoying, but it can cause visibility problems (for drivers)," he said.

Nick's thought bubble: I had a stump removed from my boulevard in the spring of 2020. It's still there, but the Park Board told me it will be ground this summer... or next.

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