The National Park Service may take some heat if visitors to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore see crews cutting down what appear to be healthy beech and ash trees.
But the Park Service is faced with a difficult choice; do they take down some trees now in an effort to to save others later, or let nature take its course?
Right now beech trees in the park are under attack. Minuscule, cottonlike scale insects are gnawing away at the bark of some healthy beeches, opening them to Beech Bark Disease. A fungus can form a canker, or wound, and eventually kill the tree.
The Park Service is hoping to head off widespread infection with a more aggressive policy of cutting down infected trees and creating a restoration program.
What’s happening in the park is part of a wider assault on northern Michigan forests by insect pests. Many ash trees across the state are infected by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that eats the sensitive layer underneath the bark, disrupts the flow of nutrients and eventually kills it.
The park’s oak trees, though currently healthy, could soon fall victim to oak wilt, a fungal disease that’s been reported in Benzie County.
The Park Service is asking the public to give input on a new Hazard Tree Management Plan. Park neighbors and concerned citizens can submit suggestions and input online until Feb. 15.
Beech, ash and oak trees are major parts of the area’s forests, and the insect infestation has a lot of people worried that losing large numbers of those trees could significantly dim the blazing fall color change that is so much a part of northern Michigan.
The Tree Management Plan will need to pass an environmental assessment and several other hurdles before it’s implemented.
The emerald ash borer is already rampant in the park and there are early signs of beech bark disease; there are no reports yet of oak wilt.
On a more positive note, there may be an upside to the numbing cold that has gripped the region. Scientists at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in St. Paul, Minn., say up to 80 percent of the ash borer population there could be eliminated by the deep cold. That’s reminiscent of the cold snap that greatly reduced a tent caterpillar infestation in northern Michigan in the 1990s.
To read and comment on the the Hazard Tree Management Plan, go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=45319.