Rotted tree removal at Moran State Park

An example of laminated root rot. - Cali Bagby/ Staff photo
An example of laminated root rot.
— image credit: Cali Bagby/ Staff photo

Laminated root rot and Douglas fir trees are both native to the Pacific Northwest. An increasing infection of the rot in these towering green giants in areas where human traffic is high has caused alarm for the park service. The solution is tree removal.

“We’ve got over 5,000 acres of forest. This [tree removal] is a small percentage of the park around high-use areas so that we are able to keep it open for visitors in a safe manner,” said Park Manager Jim Schuh. “Stuff like that has to happen, otherwise we’d have to shut down – completely excluding people.”

The tree removal begins in the park on Thursday and cutting and associated hauling and cleanup will potentially continue until the end of March, when tourists will start flocking to the island.

The plan, spearheaded by Robert Fimbel, with the Washington State Parks’ Stewardship Program, calls for patch cutting and thinning in three areas of the park, which include the surrounding areas of the Environmental Learning Center, the primitive campground and the upper part of the north end campground. The areas are high priority because of the year-round and seasonal living quarters by the ELC and overnight guests at the campgrounds.

The fungus

Last February, the park held a meeting to discuss laminated root rot, which is a fungus spreading by root-to-root contact between trees. It does not spread through soil or air on its own. It can remain viable in stumps for up to 50 years, infecting any new trees susceptible to the disease.

“The root rot is so effective and aggressive where you have stands of pure Douglas fir, whose roots are growing together, overlapping, then graphing together,” Fimbel said.

This interconnected root system makes survival difficult. Imagine typhoid fever sweeping through the over-populated slum cities of India.

Douglas firs can fall without warning when their roots are rotted, and measuring 40 inches and weighing more than several tons, these giants can cause damage when they hit the ground, especially when campers are in the area.

In other Washington State Parks, Fimbel has seen trees that looked green and healthy during the summer that with no warning literally “fell over.”

There is also concern, said Fimbel, that adjacent trees that do not show symptoms may be in an early and undetectable stage of the disease.

Fimbel said the fungus may have been kept in check in an earlier time because historically the forest was more diverse and there could have been more hardwoods – broad-leaved deciduous trees – that stopped the pathogen, which spreads one to two feet a year.

“It’s a native organism feeding on a native host,” Fimbel said.

The plan

Douglas fir, mountain hemlock, western hemlock, grand and Pacific silver fir are all considered “highly susceptible” to the disease.

Fimbel’s solution of thinning and patch cuts would give non-host trees more room to grow around the primitive campground and the ELC.

Stumps would be left in the ground in the proposed plan because removing them disturbs the soil and doesn’t guarantee getting rid of pathogens, said Fimbel. He also plans to replant trees, like lodgepole pine, that are resistant to the fungus.

He estimates that 500 to 1,000 trees will be removed.

During the cuts, some trails, like in the primitive area, will be closed and there will be some short-term road closures where tree work is occurring on Mount Constitution and near the ELC.

Schuh said people should be prepared to see the surrounding areas of the ELC, the primitive campground and the upper part of the north end campground to have a thinner forest and many smaller trees.

The park’s goal, he said, has been to create a balance between the health of the forest and the safety concern of visitors.

“I hope people can see the balance we are striking,” he said.

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