Parks and Forestry personnel cut down and grind up a diseased elm tree on Third Street near the Brookings County Courthouse last week. The work of marking and bringing down diseased trees on city boulevards will continue through the summer and into fall. Diseased trees on private property must be taken down at the owner's expense.
/ Parks and Forestry personnel cut down and grind up a diseased elm tree on Third Street near the Brookings County Courthouse last week.
Photos by John Kubal/Register
• Brookings loses sick trees, plants new ones
BROOKINGS – Bummer. Each year at about this time Brookings residents dread the red: a spray-painted red "X" appearing on American elm trees gracing the city's boulevards and in residents' yards spells infection with Dutch Elm Disease – aka DED.
As of last week there had been 73 diseased trees marked: 20 on boulevards and 53 on private property. Some have been taken down; those remaining will be taken down.
In 2011, a total of 36 trees on boulevards and 63 on private property had to come down. That number is pretty near being average for any given year.
"It'll go up," said Al Kruse, the city's Parks and Forestry superintendent, of the tree marking to date. "There'll probably be more. They've only been through the town once to check." He doesn't like to see trees go down.
"I'm more of a tree hugger than I want to admit," Kruse said. "I love the trees. I feel real bad. Some people are just broken hearted over it. I don't blame them. My folks lost a large tree in their backyard. It's a pretty tough deal to lose a nice tree like that."
Kruse has been with the city for more than 30 years and in his present post for the past year and a half. In addition to being responsible for the removal of trees infected with Dutch Elm Disease, trees posing a hazard, or trees damaged by storms, he and his crews also see to cutting out stumps, making clearance for utility lines and replanting of trees in place of those taken down. He'd rather see trees going up than coming down.
'Tree City USA'
Despite the bad news that comes with having to take trees down, Kruse gets done all the things necessary to ensure that Brookings retains its status as a Tree City USA. That takes hard work and attention to detail.
"You have to keep up on it," he explained. "There's stuff I have to fill out every year: It shows how much we put into our budget for tree planting, for removals, for pruning, control of diseases such as Dutch Elm Disease."
The Brookings native, born here in 1959, spent six years in the private sector in Arizona, "as an arborist for some big tree companies. (I) did some managing down there."
Kruse is a certified arborist through the International Society of Arborculture. He has four full-time employees to help him care for the city's "forests." Consider that Brookings boulevards have a total of about 10,000 trees. That's just part of the city's arboreal inventory.
"We've got three tree nurseries," he added. "We've got everything from crabs, maples, catalpas, spruce, pine, oak, walnut. Some of those won't go on the boulevards, because they're a little messier. Some will go into parks." Some will go to replace trees felled by DED.
A fungus among us
Time for a quick Dutch Elm Disease 101 primer: DED can be spread in three different ways. The first is by an elm bark beetle acting as a mechanical vector and moving the disease-causing fungus from one tree-top to another; the second is by the fungus moving from an infected tree to a healthy tree when they are so close together that their roots are intertwined; and the third, which doesn't apply in Brookings, is using a cutting tool such as a saw that has been used on an infected tree to trim a healthy tree.
While there is no cure for an infected tree, there is one bright spot emerging: Kruse said there are new elm trees that are resistant to the disease.
"We've already started to replant some," Kruse said. "We can thank Ron Eggen and Alan Frerichs for jumping on this in the late '60s and getting them, so we didn't lose them (the American elms) all at once." Eggen then held the job Kruse now has; Frerichs was director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry until his retirement last year.
Kruse added, "There are trees that I've taken down and replanted that are probably 45 feet tall now. If you don't do anything about (DED), if you don't control it, you don't remove some of these trees, it'll just wipe everything out within a matter of a few years."
While Kruse's crews take down trees on the boulevards, the removal of trees on private property is the owner's responsibility. Owners are given a "reasonable amount of time to get them taken down." Tree removal companies get pretty busy in Brookings during the summer and into the fall.
The fungus gets the name DED, but the trees it attacks are American elms. There are some Siberian elms in Brookings. Kruse says, "They're not as nice a tree as your American elms; and some people get confused and call them Chinese elms.
"Chinese elms don't grow around here; they grow down south." The Chinese elm is an evergreen that keeps its leaves most of the year; and it's smaller than an American elm.
No hitchhikers, please
Protecting the city's trees as best as possible and replacing those that must come down demands constant vigilance. Work around one disease and another killer emerges. Case in point: ash trees, considered a good replacement for elm trees done in by DED, but suspectible to attack and destruction by the emerald ash borer. It's a nasty insect accidentally brought into Canada from abroad in the 1990s and detected in the United States in about 2002. It has at least the potential deadliness of DED. It has not yet been detected in Brookings.
"It is in the (Twin) Cities area," Kruse said. "Hopefully, we won't get any hitchhikers. It could come in on firewood or hitchhike. They're not long-distance flyers, but they will take a ride if they can get one."
A large quarantined area around the Twin Cities is in place in the hope that the bug can be contained.
Meanwhile, Kruse keeps the trees of Brookings going and growing. With the new nature park on the horizon, fruit trees are being planted for later replanting there.
Contact John Kubal at jkubal@-brookingsregister.com.