Be A Smart Ash

By Sara Davis

In the city and county of Denver, Colo., one in six trees is an ash, making it vital that residents understand how they can save the ash trees and protect the city’s urban forest. The Be A Smart Ash movement, an unexpectedly irreverent, city-driven, five-year campaign launched in 2016, has rallied citizens to protect the ash trees from the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The campaign’s goal is to encourage residents to take action, identify ash trees, and (when necessary) treat or replace them.

One year later, citizens, community leaders, and tourists are falling in love with the campaign, which includes:

  • An original song and outrageous music video sponsored by Be A Smart Ash and produced by Denver Botanic Gardens and Jonny 5 of The Flobots
  • An interactive map, using tree inventory data that allow citizens to quickly assess whether there is an ash tree on their property
  • Bus tails: “Big Ash, Small Ash: No matter the size, it’s time to get your ash in gear”
  • Tree tags: “This Ash is Covered,” following treatment by the city
  • Tree wraps that are winning hearts
  • A playful but informative Twitter handle, @BeASmartAsh.

“We’ve had overwhelming support from city officials at all levels—from city council to the mayor’s office—which enabled us to not only anticipate the Emerald Ash Borer’s arrival in Denver, but work to reduce its impact,” Denver City Forester Rob Davis says. “Through this support, we are now advising Denver residents to Be A Smart Ash, not just because we need to heighten awareness, but also because we need community support to effectively battle EAB. Through this campaign, we strive to give residents the information they need to be part of a movement that will have a significant and long-term impact.”

“The Emerald Ash Borer has devastated ash tree populations in more than 25 states and parts of Canada, costing communities there billions of dollars,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock says. “Based on this widespread destruction, the city of Denver has been proactively planning to battle the pest for the past several years.”

Coming Up With A Plan
These initiatives, enabled by a complete tree inventory completed in 2016, have led to 4,500 free tree plantings on private property. The city also plans to replace all small ash trees on city-maintained land, and a rigorous treatment schedule is in place for some of the historic ash trees on city property. But most importantly, the tree census enables residents to use an interactive map to identify trees on their property, and they can request a free replacement tree to be planted in the right-of-way on their property through a public-private partnership.

“Properly administered treatments are 90-percent effective and tree removal and replacement can be dangerous work, so the campaign highly recommends that residents work with a reputable tree-care professional, such as those listed on our website, no matter which course of action residents choose to take in battling EAB,” Davis says.

A Proactive Approach
A report from the Colorado State Forest Service estimates that the economic damage to metro Denver alone could total $82 million. In preparing for the inevitable EAB infestation, Denver used an innovative approach to assess its risk—it used satellite technology to conduct a tree census. An enterprising data scientist for the city then combined information gathered from the assessment and tree inventory with equations coming from peer-reviewed papers that explained how quickly EAB infestation spreads and how long it takes for infected trees to die. Focused on the potential costs to the city if it did nothing, the data team worked with the Office of the City Forester to overlay the data with real-life experiences of municipalities devastated by EAB—including visits to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison, Wis., to see the devastation first-hand.

Even though it’s just a matter of time before all the ash trees in Denver will be devoured by the Emerald Ash Borer, the city and its residents are putting up a fight for their urban canopy. But who wants to be a Debbie Downer when you can Be A Smart Ash?

For more information on the Emerald Ash Borer and to learn how to Be A Smart Ash, visit or follow us on Twitter, @BeASmartAsh.

Sara Davis is the program manager for the Office of the City Forester in the Denver Parks and Recreation Department in Denver, Colo. Reach her at (720) 913-0651.