Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oak Abuse, Part 5: Technology Is Amazing

My neighbor has contacted the Kunde Consultants division of S&S Tree Specialists to prevent the spread of oak wilt to other trees in her yard, as well as those in her neighbor's yard since oak roots don't recognize property lines... and in the process I was reminded of what an amazing time we live in.

Steve Kunde was a pioneer in the area of oak wilt prevention and eradication. He was also, and I'll never forget this, an early supporter of a little non-profit organization called Lasting Woodlands that I started as an urban forestry student back in 1988. A few years ago Kunde Company was acquired by S&S Tree Specialists, but remained essentially intact. I saw Steve about 18 months ago and he was really happy about the arrangement, which allows him to focus on the forestry side of things while the larger S&S organization can handle more of the business matters.

Glen Olson is a highly experienced forester with Kunde Consultants. Rather than driving 45 minutes south to Northfield to visit the site in person he brilliantly saved time & gas... and visited the site via satellite. Glen called say he was looking at my neighbor's home via an aerial image on Google Maps. He could see the line of oaks, and the location of the various walkways, sidewalks and driveways that I have always worried would make trenching to sever root grafts difficult if not impossible. He could tell from the imagery which trees were oaks and which were not. Amazing.

The bad news: Trenching is impossible.
The good news: The adjacent trees can be injected with fungicide to prevent infection. This will need to be done now and again in 2 years. The fungicide is called Propiconazole.

I was happy to provide some "ground truth" (as we say in the remote imaging game) by taking diameter measurements of the trees so that Glen could complete his quote quickly.

The 2 threatened oaks immediately to the north of the infected tree are 28 and 27 inches in diameter. The 2 oaks to the south are even bigger - 29 and 31 inches.

But of course the tree that died was the biggest of the group: 35.5 inches in diameter - 111.5 inches in circumference!

It's been a weird summer... arriving home from work in May 22 to learn that some hacks had pruned my neighbor's red oak trees smack dab in the middle of the danger zone for oak wilt spread... watching those trees all summer, first hoping against hope that they'd be all right, and then hoping against hope that the die back I was seeing was caused by something else, something less deadly... getting the diagnosis of oak wilt... then reconnecting with a great company like Kunde Consultants to do things right and protect the surrounding trees.

Every time I get discouraged that there are guys out there calling themselves tree care professionals who are wantonly (or accidentally through ignorance, which is just as bad) harming trees, I remember that there are people like Steve Kunde and Glen Olson out there who are committed to doing things right. And, who now have technology available to them that allows them to "visit" a site 35 miles away in a matter of minutes so they can do their important work even more efficiently and effectively.

Tree Care Plug

The other day John from Cannon River Tree Care came, at the home owner's request, to have a look at her oak wilt-infected tree and consult about preventing the spread of the fungus to adjacent trees.

While Cannon River Tree Care doesn't have the equipment required to take on this project, I came away really, really impressed with John's knowledge and integrity. Like me he was appalled that a so-called tree care company would prune those gorgeous red oaks in May, and was sick about the consequences.

If you live in the Northfield / Rice County, MN area I highly recommend Cannon River Tree Care. We're lucky to have such a high-quality tree care company here in the area.

Oak Abuse, Part 4

We received notification from the Plant Disease Clinic: It is oak wilt. This is one of those cases where you hate to be right, and wish you had been wrong.

Now comes the task of protecting the adjacent trees from the fungus. Now that one tree got infected via the inefficient means of a picnic beetle carrying fungal spores from a diseased tree to the May 22 pruning wounds made on this tree, oak wilt now becomes a much deadlier threat, spreading at an approximate rate of 30 feet per year through the roots from one tree to the next.

Oak wilt transmission overland via the picnic beetle is a question of "if." Transmission via the root systems is a matter of "when." Oak trees form root grafts with nearby oaks of the same species - northern red oak to northern red oak, bur oak to bur oak, etc. Whether this is an example of aboreal socialism which allows a stand of oaks to share water and nutrient resources, or is a Darwinian means by which stronger oaks draw upon the resources of weaker ones, I don't know.

What I do know is it makes a great highway by which systemic fungal infections can travel from one oak tree to the next... and the next... and the next.

But we have been hard at work getting the right people involved in preventing the spread of the fungus to adjacent trees, and these experts have more tools at their disposal than they did 20 years ago when I was first learning about and giving talks about oak wilt.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Oak Abuse, Part 3

(click to enlarge)
Well, it has happened, my fears are (nearly) confirmed. Remember, a soon-to-be named south Twin Cities metro tree "care" company pruned my neighbor's gorgeous red oak trees on May 22 - smack dab in the middle of oak wilt season. When they remained healthy throughout June and part of July, I was hopeful that we had dodged a bullet and that the trees had escaped infection. No such luck. Since showing the first signs of flagging & die back in July, the tree collapsed rapidly in August. Samples have been sent to the Plant Disease Clinic at the University of Minnesota for culture & diagnosis. Results are expected in 1-2 weeks, but the technician was convinced that it is indeed oak wilt, and a tree inspector from a Mpls suburb who was dropping off samples believes it is oak wilt.

So, in all likelihood, these guys killed my neighbor's tree. Actually, trees - since this red oak is part of a row of huge red oaks that spans 5 different front yards. Sidewalks, driveways, the street and buried electrical/cable/phone lines will make it very difficult to effectively trench to severe the root grafts between the trees and prevent the spread of the fungus from this diseased tree to its cohorts.

So we have the cost of removal and the cost of trenching to try to save the remaining trees. We'll be having a "chat" with this particular tree "care" company very soon. Stay tuned.