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Something's Eating My Tree
Article #309 May 2020
By Bill Cook

The growing season is a time when trees leaf-out, flower, fruit, and add more wood to their diameters.  There are myriads of organisms that feed on this abundant growth.

            One of the most common questions that Extension foresters, and other service foresters, receive has to do with tree health, or more precisely, poor health.  Concerned people want to know what’s happening and what they can do to help the trees. 
            Each year, the environment is a bit different, which can favor, or discriminate against, tree pests.  For instance, long wet springs will favor fungal pests that damage trees and, conversely may help suppress insect outbreaks, such as gypsy moths.  Nature is not a static, unvarying thing.  Conditions are volatile and outcomes often difficult to predict.
            People can help forest health experts narrow-down specific maladies by first doing a bit of investigative work on their own, which can be fun, too.  Try to have as much of this information on-hand before calling or emailing for help.  Good pictures can be helpful. 

            Before you contact that expert, become familiar with the handful of more recent forest pests.  Take a walk through the DNR Forest Health Highlights, found on their Forest Health webpage.  This is an excellent summary of major pests. 
            You can also poke around on the forest health module on the U.P. Tree ID website, which lists common ailments by species and/or genus. 
            Another important point is that urban and residential environments are very much different than those in wildland forests.  The wild is much healthier for trees. 
            Don’t be too surprised if foresters cannot identify all the tree maladies in urban and residential environments.  Foresters are trained to manage landscapes and populations of trees, not so much individual trees. 
            Individual tree care is more the realm of arborists.  The website for the International Society Arboriculture has a good “finder” directory for certified arborists.  That certification is important.  Also, many municipalities employ urban foresters that may be able to provide advice to homeowners.  There are also tree care companies that employ arborists or urban foresters.  Be sure to check qualifications, of course. 
            Lastly, many times there is little that a person can “do” about helping trees recover.  Making sure the tree has the right amount of water, at the right time, is often the best treatment and is one of the best preventative measures.  When treatments exist, they are sometimes expensive.  So, you’ll need to decide just how much that tree matters to you and, perhaps, how it might affect your neighbors. 

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