Red Pines Stands Hit by Blight
Issue   |   Tue, 03/03/2015 - 23:20

Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord announced in a campus-wide email Feb. 19 that the college will be taking down the red pine stands located in the Amherst Sanctuary behind the tennis courts. The trees were planted as fast-growing replacements following a hurricane that devastated tree stands across campus in 1938. According to Brassord, the trees now face two problems.

“One is that [the red pines] are now beyond their normal life expectancy, so you would expect a natural die-off because of the age of the trees,” Brassord said, “But [the second] is that they are incredibly stressed right now by a blight … and a fungus.”

The blight, Matsococcusreinosae, and the fungus, also known as Fomes root rot, have attacked many of the red pines in the sanctuary, which puts the branches and trunks of the trees at risk of falling down. Brassord said that there have not been any injuries so far because the grounds crew have been taking down at-risk trees, but, “over the past year, the poor condition of the trees has accelerated so quickly that now we are in a position where we have to take them all down.”

In his email, Brassord said that the first phase of the red pine removal will start this month and will continue over the next two years until the 35 to 40 acres of red pine stands in the sanctuary have been taken down. He added that treatment of the pines was not a feasible option, and the college is taking down the pines at the suggestion of foresters and conservation experts who were brought in to evaluate the red pines.

Despite the wide-scale removal of the pines, Brassord said that the process will cost only a few thousand dollars for the college.

“The cost is fairly minimal ... because what we are [doing] is engaging a local forestry company that will take down the trees using industrial equipment, but of the few trees that have any timber value within the stand, they are going to use those [trees] and take those … which will offset the cost,” Brassord said.

The red pines will be replaced by a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, an effort to make the sanctuary more reflective of a natural forest, according to Brassord. This project of clearing the trees will leave the area looking barren for a few years. However, he also said that the college is working with the biology and environmental studies faculty, in addition to the Office of Environmental Sustainability, to make the new stands “positive for the campus” by creating carbon sinks where the red pines stands will be taken down.