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Coping with Beech Bark Disease
Special Article, November, 2003  
By Bill Cook

The eastern Upper Peninsula is dealing with a European scourge that has ravaged millions of acres of beech forest across eastern North America since 1890.  The beech bark disease, or BBD for short. 

BBD is a combination of a small insect called a “scale” and three fungal species in the genus “Nectria”.  Scales are sucking insects that pierce the beech bark to feed upon the rich fluids underneath.  They appear as small clumps of cotton or lint.  Scales themselves don’t seem to cause great harm.  However, they eventually introduce the fungal disease, which kills the delicate living layer called the “cambium”.  Soon, shallow depressions of oozing tar-colored fluid may appear.  Nectria girdles the tree and the tree is toast.  All this may happen in a couple years, or it may take several. 

A couple beech trees in every hundred may be resistant.  So, watch for those and let the DNR or MSU Extension know about them.  They might be included into research that may represent the future beech forest in North America. 

Information about BBD can be found on the Internet on the Michigan Society of American Foresters website at [http://forestry.msu.edu/msaf].  Click on the “Forestry Info” button, then the “Forest Health” button.  You can also request MSU Extension Bulletin E-2746 from your County Extension office. 

Beech is one of the few trees that provide “hard mast” for wildlife such as deer, turkey, squirrels, and over 30 other species.  “Hard mast” is the technical term for nuts.  The Upper Peninsula grows over 200 million board feet of beech, enough to run a cord pile nearly 2000 miles.  Most of it may eventually disappear.  Bad news. 

Forests infected with BBD display a “killing front” of rapidly dying trees.  This “front” moves across the landscape like a wave, sort of.  If you want to see what it looks like from the ground, take a drive along Luce County Road 455 (Carlson Camp Road) between M-77 and the Bass Lake Campground. 

Forests with a poor management history sometimes have high proportions of beech.  These stands are particularly susceptible to BBD, of course.  Every forest is different, but where beech dominates the composition, for whatever reason, forest owners will face some difficult choices, sooner or later.  Working with a forester will help identify the best management options, which may be limited. 

What can be done?  Does anything need to be done?  What values may be impacted?  Should nature be allowed to take its course with an exotic situation?  Should a timber harvest be considered?  If so, when and how?  What about the future?  How fast will the disease spread? 

Some forest owners have chosen to aggressively salvage beech and work to regenerate alterative species.  Much of the BBD infected forest managed by The Forestland Group (formerly Shelter Bay) has gone this route.  Operations are often temporarily unsightly, but lead to a healthier future forest in less time than waiting for nature to run its course.  If you wonder what might lay in store for your forest, contact Richard Stevenson at the DNR office in Newberry at stevensr@michigan.gov or 906-293-5131. 

If you don’t have a forest management plan, now would be a great time to develop one.  Don’t be tempted to sell timber before its time for fear of BBD.  Michigan’s Forest Stewardship Program helps pay the planning costs for owners with 12 to 1000 acres of forest.  Keep in mind there is more to forest management than reacting to an exotic disease, but dealing with BBD often requires special consideration of alternatives over many years. 

Beech bark disease is not the last of exotic tree assaults.  Our U.P. forests have already been impacted by Dutch elm disease, larch casebearer, butternut canker, and white pine blister rust.  Oak wilt, gypsy moth, pine shoot beetle, and emerald ash borer are on the radar screen, and a number of scary possibilities are lurking on the not-so-distant horizon.  Stay tuned. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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