Bass on Bass

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Killing of a "Survivor Elm"


   First lets answer the question the title probably gets you pondering, what's a "Survivor Elm"? It's an example of the infinitesimal percentage of the American Elm population of the United States from the beginning of the 20th century that had genetic resistance to "Dutch Elm Disease" the source of the epidemic that decimated the population of these wonderful trees in the mid to late 20th century all across the United States. "Only about one in 100,000 elms may be naturally resistant to the pathogen." 
    It's called Dutch Elm Disease here in the U.S. because "The disease was first reported in the United States in 1928, with the beetles believed to have arrived in a shipment of logs from The Netherlands destined for use as veneer in the Ohio furniture industry." The disease peaked in our Chicago area around 1960 so most of "our" survivors are 60+ years old. 
    The one dying on the parkway of my home here in La Grange Park IL, a suburb of Chicago, is probably in the 80-90 years old range. It's that magnificent specimen of the species at the center of the picture above, taken in May of 2011. This is all about that tree and what has happened to it since that photo was taken. Here it is today in the picture below, clearly dying.

    As soon as the white X appeared on the street side of it's main trunk that same May of 2011, I began to investigate what the reasoning was for such an obviously healthy and valuable tree being marked for removal. In that spring and the previous fall it had survived, virtually unscathed, through some of the most violent weather we had experienced since moving to our house ~30 years earlier.


    I contacted the Village about it and the Director of Public Works, the person who "marked it for death" came out to talk to me about it. His reasoning was that the "wound" shown below, that had survived the fore mentioned remarkably severe weather and he viewed as a beginning split, was likely to fail in a storm and be a Village liability risk per possible damages to property or persons under it in such an event and they had to avoid that risk.
    That wound was in fact the not yet completely closed over wound inflicted by some vandal a decade and a half earlier. That vandal had used something to rip off about a 1" wide strip of bark from that crotch to the ground as well as another strip from about that height to ground on the side facing the house. He or she had also done similar damage to the Norfolk Pine that used to stand tall in the middle of our front yard. The pine had died and been removed by us years earlier.
    Almost immediately I began a campaign to save the tree. In the process came across the then US Forest Service run program to identify, map, clone and propagate "Survivor Elm" trees for the preservation of the arboreal heritage and environmental health of our nation. I registered it but never managed  to catch, remove and send the budding stage cuttings from it they were using to clone them.      
     I also began a series of contacts with the Village and got a local paper's reporter to do a piece on the whole business including some info about the Survivor Elm project.  The article made page 2 of the paper and included the picture of  3 generations of  "The von Rentzell boys" shown below. 


    I contacted and got an evaluation from a professional arborist of my own and got the Village to have their arborist to take a second look at the "problem". I had also investigated by observation and come up with a trimming plan to relieve specific torsion from exposure to the dominant winds from summer storms when it's fully leafed out limbs would be most affected by them and which would be the likeliest source of any such "failure" of the crotch involved. See the picture below of that plan which I e-mailed to the Public Works director and Village manager as well as that reporter.

The "PLAN"
    The "plan" didn't fly with the Village but all that effort I put forth plus the publicity did convince them not to take the whole tree. They did, however, insist on removal of the whole portion of the tree pointed over the street. I agreed to accept that which appears now to have been contributory to the tree's demise. Here it is after the major sub-trunk removal by the Village's tree service.
 The Village's SURGERY results
    Obviously, the amount of the tree's live tissue removal was HUGE. 2012 brought a severe, nearly endless mid-summer heat wave. The combination of the 2 factors left the tree severely stressed and vulnerable to infestation, hence it's current, DOOMED to removal state.


Willyvon1 said...

Yesterday I e-mailed the Director of public Works for the Village asking when the removal contractor was going to cut the dying tree down. His response was extremely quick and promised the removal by this Friday. After ~ 2 hours of work this morning, all that is left is ~ a 4-6" high stump.

Willyvon1 said...

I tried counting the growth rings on the stump. Best I could tell the age of the tree was ~66 years old, well short of the 80+ Y/O estimate above.