2017-04-23 / Insight

Local arborist says forested areas face challenges from disease to invasive insects

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Various fungi, like the tinder mushrooms seen here, can grow on living or dead trees. Some species of mushroom are parasitic, meaning they draw nutrients from the host tree, severely damaging or destroying it. Various fungi, like the tinder mushrooms seen here, can grow on living or dead trees. Some species of mushroom are parasitic, meaning they draw nutrients from the host tree, severely damaging or destroying it. LAPEER — For many people, a tree is a tree. It’s got a trunk, bark, leaves, branches and it occasionally grows apples or other fruit. But for area arborists like Joe Drinkhorn of Edwards Tree and Land Clearing, every tree is unique, down to the last leaf.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Michigan is home to vast forested areas featuring more than 85 different species of trees, from sugar maple to Michigan’s state tree, the eastern white pine, and arborists like Drinkhorn know them all.

“No two trees are the same,” said Drinkhorn. “They might look similar but the circumstances of each tree is completely different.”


Trees can fall for a number of reasons, including high winds, fire, lightning, disease and human intervention. 
Photos by Nicholas Pugliese Trees can fall for a number of reasons, including high winds, fire, lightning, disease and human intervention. Photos by Nicholas Pugliese A little over half of Michigan is forested, according to the Michigan State University Extension Office, with significant density starting around Lapeer County heading north. Lapeer County features thousands of acres of forested area that is home to dozens of native tree species, and while it seems like tree health is stable, these forested areas face many challenges, from disease to invasive insect overpopulation to environmental contamination.

Many people have likely heard the terms “oak wilt,” “Dutch elm disease” or “emerald ash borer” and can recognize them as nebulous threats that are related in some way to trees, but arborists like Drinkhorn know how severe these issues can be, putting forested areas in Lapeer County in danger.

“Oak wilt kills red oaks and some white oaks, and Dutch elm disease that attacks American Elms are pretty common diseases,” Drinkhorn said. “Ash and pine are commonly killed by ash borer and beetles.”

Oak wilt is a term used to refer to a voracious and pervasive fungus that specifically targets oak trees, which are one of the more common trees in Lapeer County. Oak wilt kills healthy red oaks, according to the state Dept. of Natural Resources, and while white oaks can also be affected, they tend to be more resistant and less vulnerable to mortality from the disease.

Once a red oak becomes infected with the oak wilt fungus, the tree will die, and there is no treatment to save the infected tree. Once an oak wilt infection is confirmed, however, treatments are available to save surrounding oaks and stop the spread of this disease.

Emerald ash borers were first discovered in Michigan 15 years ago, in 2002, and have quickly become one of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of Michigan’s ash tree population. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, emerald ash borer beetles likely arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships coming from its native Asia. The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage — however, the larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients, which in many cases results in the death of the tree.

Ash borers are commonly spread by inadvertent human involvement, something that Drinkhorn says can be reduced with care.

“Don’t move firewood from place to place, Emerald Ash Borer was spread that way,” said Drinkhorn. “Infected Firewood being moved from county to county made it spread much faster than it would have on its own.”

The loss of trees to oak wilt, ash borer beetles and other problems can have a monumentally negative impact on an area, and in some unexpected ways. “Trees in our communities do a couple different things for us,” said Drinkhorn.

“Trees provide shade bringing our average temperature down, they increase property values, and trees tend to be more aesthetically pleasing than bare ground.” Homeowners and municipalities spend millions annually to combat diseases like oak wilt, which requires treatment of affected areas, removal of infected trees and replanting of healthy trees, and if left unchecked, oak wilt and ash borers can devalue property by significant amounts.

Fighting against forest diseases is a community effort and a fight arborists wage daily. Education is key — learning the different ailments that can affect trees in a person’s neighborhood or property and how to properly identify them, as well as how to mitigate their spread, can mean the difference between a healthy tree and a dead one.

“Make yourself aware of basic tree health,” said Drinkhorn. “Or call an arborist to help assess any concerns (a person) might have.” Resources are available online to learn about tree care and common problems trees in Lapeer County face, and knowledgeable arborists like Drinkhorn are often only a phone call away.

Return to top

Copyright © 2009-2018 The County Press, All Rights Reserved

Click here for the E-Edition
2017-04-23 digital edition

Unrestricted access available to web site subscribers

Subscribers to the County Press newspaper can now purchase the complete online and E-Edition of the paper for as little as $5 for three months. If you want a six month subscription to the online edition it is $10 and a full year can be purchased for $20.

Non-subscribers can sign up for the online version for $15 for three months, $30 for six months and $60 for an annual subscription.