Beech bark disease poses public safety risk
Not only is beech bark disease plaguing Haliburton County, but decaying beech trees can be a risk to public safety.
Ernie Demuth of the Bancroft Minden Forest Company made a presentation to county councillors at their Nov. 25 meeting.
The private company, owned by 26 stakeholders including mostly lumber businesses, is responsible for forestry on some 250,000 hectares of Crown land in the region.
Demuth said there seems to be a lot more public knowledge about the emerald ash borer – an invasive insect species destroying ash trees in the province but, as of yet, not in Haliburton County – even though beech bark disease is a much more imminent threat, one that has been destroying beech trees in the community for years.
“Beech bark disease trumps [emerald ash borer],” Demuth said. “It’s a very serious concern right now.”
Coming to North America in wood from Europe in the 1880s, beech bark disease landed on the east coast, sweeping its way down through the American eastern seaboard and then back up across the border.
Forests in states such a New Hampshire are “aftermath forests,” all of their beech trees dead.
The disease is working its way north through Ontario and Demuth said within the next decade will have destroyed basically all of the beech trees in the county.
Beech bark disease can be difficult to detect, trees appearing healthy on the outside, but rotting from the inside out.
Demuth said all it takes is for a diseased tree to be nudged by the company’s machinery and it will collapse into large pieces.
He said forest floors in the county are littered with pieces of beech.
Diseased trees are also prone to “beech snap,” where the trunk will suddenly break, the top portion of the tree falling to the ground.
“It’s become a huge safety concern,” Demuth said, adding trees have been falling into campsites at parks.
Beech trees are ubiquitous in Haliburton County, in some places comprising as much as 70 per cent of the understorey, or lower level of a forest’s canopy.
Other tree species will move in to take the place of the dying beech trees, but this process can be inhibited by the growth of what Demuth called beech thickets.
Beech trees regenerate mainly through root spreading. And while beech bark disease is spelling the end of large beech trees in the area, they will grow in small, gnarled thickets. The thickets prevent other seedlings from taking root. No maple trees, for example, can grow underneath.
Demuth has seen areas where “they have these wastelands of beech thickets.”
So the Bancroft Minden Forestry Company has been trying to do something about the problem. Along with taking down diseased beech trees, the company is trying to prevent beech thickets from forming in these areas, done by almost scraping the forest floor with a feller-buncher.
“You’re going to get a lot of public outcry,” Demuth said. “‘What are you doing? You’re destroying the forest!’”
He stressed that what may look like a destructive act is actually being done for the longterm health of area forests.
There will be other implications from the death of the county’s beech trees.
“Unfortunately, the impact for wildlife is going to be huge,” Demuth said.
For example, beech nuts are a staple of the diet of black bears.
County Warden and Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey suggested the county host open houses to educate the public about beech bark disease.