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Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 23, 2017

Tracks and Tales: Last large Marr Park  elm tree has died and been removed

By Steve Anderson

After donning appropriate safety gear and stopping traffic, the staff of the Washington County Conservation Board began felling the last large elm tree from Marr Park last week.  Nearly every person who has entered Marr Park over the past 50 years saw that tree, but likely few actually noticed it.  Now however, the huge stump and hole created near Shelter 2 is extremely hard to miss!  The good news, I suppose, is that the shelter is still standing, the playground is undamaged, and there was no damage to the remaining live trees.  Above all else, nobody got hurt!  I.e.:  We were successful in getting the tree to fall into the area where it would do the least damage.  Due to the safety concern to park patrons, the tree was immediately broken into smaller pieces and dragged into another area for final processing into firewood.  Great job, staff!

Almost everyone knows that Dutch elm disease came through Washington County decades ago.  The net result was the loss of a huge percentage of our American elm trees in a relatively short period of time (and a true bonanza of morel mushrooms still talked about).  A few were able to escape the disease, including three here at Marr Park, all of which died over the last five years.  Smaller, younger elm trees are still growing here.  American elm trees do commonly reach a mature enough level to reproduce before the disease kills them.  This keeps the species alive in our county, but also provides a perpetual host for the disease.  For other species like American chestnut and butternut, the disease kills the trees before they even reproduce — and there are very few living specimens left in our area (I know of only one American chestnut in Washington).

Right now, emerald ash borer has been prevalent in the local news as it makes its way through our county.  Ash trees are extremely common shade and forest trees, and the pending impact is most certainly “newsworthy.”  I do not know if it will kill them before they reach reproductive age or not.

Of even larger concern are all of the diseases that seem to be looming on the horizon of our upland oak forests.  From gypsy moths to oak wilt to a myriad of others, it is often challenging to remain positive about the long-term health of Washington County’s few remaining forests.  Hopefully, the WCCB efforts at maintaining diverse stands of timbers (in terms of age, species, and all other factors) will dramatically increase the likelihood that our great-grandchildren get to enjoy the timbers we are so thankful that the public has entrusted us to manage.

During our September regular meeting, among a multitude of other important items, the WCCB is likely to be looking at proposals for increased management of about 14 acres of upland timber in our Sockum Ridge County Recreation Area.  This increased management is perfectly aligned with what has been being discussed over the past year — moving this part of the timber toward being a “shelterbelt” according to forestry definition, with an emphasis on forest health and wildlife.  It does not include harvest in any part of it at this time because the seedling trees for release are not yet present.  Instead, we are looking at understory reduction of shade-tolerant species to prepare the site for the next major white oak acorn crop whenever it occurs.  Foresters are telling us that fire is also a great tool for this preparation.  Those wanting to see how well fire works are encouraged to take a look at the area just northeast of the upper parking lot at Sockum Ridge, where fire has now been used for two years.  An additional area was created between the two upper parking lots at Fern Cliff last year.  In each case, the results have been dramatic.  We certainly are not proposing to do this everywhere, but it is diversifying the timbers where it is done and we continue to expand the use of this tool as a result.

For forest management, it is easy to get caught up in the “gloom and doom” of the impacts of global warming, disease, invasive species, and an entire host of other issues.  Instead, we try diligently to remain proactive, balanced, and optimistic.  We hope that you can do the same.

As a final note, since 2011, Iowa has had a dove season which starts on Sept.1 with good success.  Several calls have come in to our office requesting information of our food plot locations for the 2016 season.  Our Maintenance Technician, Fritz Engel, does an excellent job of preparing and planting these.  He reports that two of our areas have sunflower plots that are ripe enough to attract doves.  One is located near the south end of our Clemons Creek Wildlife & Recreation Area, the other in our Schmitter Heritage Area.  In both cases, we are also witnessing incredible use of these plots by nongame species.  Fritz has also created quite a number of food plots of various other plant species that will attract doves and other wildlife as they ripen through the fall and winter months.  We are looking forward to a safe and successful hunting season in Washington County for many species!