Mandan News

Mourning the demise of majestic elm trees

Layout 1 (Page 1)I snuck into town last week so we could host a wake for the departure of my dear aunt, Corky Ulmer/Jorde/Hagan. Twas a wonderful affair filled with family from all over and I’ll spare the details by telling you that we really do enjoy our get-togethers even when we are sending a loved one off into the void.

Prior to everyone’s arrival, I decided to take a walk. I hadn’t spent much time in town since May, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with my favorite walking path, from Paulsen Drive to Collins Avenue and back. I’d reveal further details but since there have been times when I have offended folks on these pages, my paranoia tells me that I’ve revealed enough for locals to find me if they need me.

Anyway, there I was walking through Tree City USA and it was hard not to notice the massive number of orange stickers stapled to elm trees that have suffered from Dutch elm disease. The stickers read, “This tree is being tested for Dutch Elm Disease-City of Mandan Forestry Division-DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG Till Test is Complete-TREE #_________Date of Sample_______Date Removed_______Removed By______Please Return this Tag To City Forestry Division When this tree is removed.”

These trees are American elms and many of them are pushing 100 years in age and they form beautiful canopies over many of our streets (check out the canopy over Sixth Avenue Northwest), yards and homes, so their removal saddens me.

I know the city forester, so I gave him a call to see how serious this epidemic is. Barry informed me that he’s tagged 177 trees so far and he really doesn’t enjoy this part of his job. However, Barry’s rather helpless because once Dutch elm disease begins, all he can do is remove the afflicted tree and hope the disease hasn’t spread to the next one.

I understand that Dutch elm is spread by a gnat of some sort that carries a fungus that kills only American elms. All the gnat has to do is fly from one treetop to another, touch a leaf or two with whatever fungus is stuck to it and in due time the elm tree dies. To give you an idea of how hard it would be to spot a gnat in an American elm, just stand next to one, look up and most likely you won’t even be able to see the top of the tree, much less a bug.

So the battle to save these trees is being fought in full force and most likely over time we tree huggers are going to lose. Barry hopes that he can at least slow the spread and replace the trees … but in the meantime, the faces of our older neighborhoods will change.

I happened by a couple of tree removal crews and couldn’t help but notice how stark the houses looked without these big trees. As I crossed Sixth Avenue Northwest, I was left to wonder how long it would be before the entire canopy would have to be removed. Barry had shared the same thought and shared that this disease seems to have picked up significantly over the past three years. He’s working on replacing the trees, but the reality is that it will take a couple of generations for new trees to catch up with the ones he’s had to remove.

So maybe it’s time for what’s left of us tree huggers to pray for some sort of miracle that would save the elm trees. Here’s hoping Barry and his crews get some relief.