During a break at the farm the other day I took a minute to look around at some of the interesting and individual features that make our farm special to me. One of those features is the trees. A large and majestic elm tree grows at the edge of the barnyard where the cows hang out at the fence pining for the green grass growing in the orchard before their pasture is ready to open for them. The elm has been home to a Baltimore oriole in the past, even within the past few years, and seems healthy, despite the looming and perhaps inevitable prospect of its succumbing to the disease that wiped elms from the landscape decades ago.
It is pretty rare to have a live elm tree growing anywhere in the area. I know of a couple of large specimens in Newport, and haven’t thought to look as I pass through other area towns. Dutch Elm disease killed most of the elms in the United States from the late 1920s into the 1960s. A few survivors can be found, but certainly not many. The trees were killed by a fungus that is introduced to the trees by elm beetles that bore into the bark. It is thought that the beetle was introduced from Europe to the United States in wood imported for furniture making.
We are currently under attack from another beetle introduced by imports. The emerald ash borer that was introduced to the States in wood pallets imported from Asia and has been marching through the forests of the United States and is decimating the ash trees. According to researchers, very few live ash trees will be found soon. It is almost impossible to treat forests for disease and pests. The sheer volume of trees makes it physically and financially impractical to treat forests for disease. Small plots may be kept safe, but when priority and focus are lost so are the trees.
Extinction of trees in the U.S is nothing new. The ash tree is the most recent, but elm and the American chestnut are gone after dominating much of the landscape just a hundred years ago. According to some studies, almost 10 percent of trees worldwide are threatened, with almost a dozen threatened here in the United States including the redwoods and a cypress in California, a couple of yew species in Florida, the longleaf pine in the Southeast, a couple of species in Hawaii, the island-dwelling Catalina mahogany and the Fraser fir in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Some studies even label the sugar maple tree as endangered as temperatures rise and the pressures of acid rain and pollution take a toll.
A variety of factors can threaten a tree species. Some of these endangered trees are losing ground due to insect infestations, others due to slow regeneration because of rodent and deer pressure, and others due to lack of habitat as areas are developed and land use is changed. Preservation and breeding experiments are underway for several species.
One thing is for certain. I will try to preserve and protect, monitor and enhance the growth of the trees on my property for as long as I can, harvesting when necessary, promoting growth when advisable and working with foresters and experts to keep our forest healthy and thriving. There is nothing quite as nice as a healthy tree providing shade in the summer, foliage fireworks in the fall and artful images year ‘round.
I hope my elm, my maples, my birches, pines, cherries and ash trees stay healthy and we can keep pest, human and environmental threats from devastating the tree population in perpetuity. That’s a tall order, but lots of trees are tall.
Becky is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport.