In the 31 years Paula Hunter has worked as an arborist, she hasn’t seen anything quite like the damage fungi are doing to trees at Spanaway Park.
“It’s by far the worst I’ve seen,” Hunter said of the tree-decaying diseases that are forcing the removal of 250 trees.
Red ring and Schweinitzii fungi are slowly killing the trees from the inside, starting in the roots and working their way into the heart of trees. Some trees are so rotten, Hunter said, there is only about an inch of healthy wood around the edge of the tree.
Of the 68 Douglas firs Hunter’s Tree Service removed this year, eight were deemed too dangerous for the crew to climb and remove in a traditional manner. In some cases, cranes were needed to remove the trees.
The crew completed its work for this year on Monday morning, with the remaining sick trees scheduled to be removed by 2021.
Pierce County Parks decided to remove the trees gradually over five years for a couple of reasons, said Jess Stone, the department’s natural lands steward.
First, they wanted to reduce the impact of removing so many trees from the 135-acre park. Second, removing rotten trees is expensive.
This year’s work cost $95,000, Stone said. Hunter’s Tree Service won a bidding process for the work, Stone said. Not only is additional equipment and manpower needed to remove some diseased trees, but the work is more dangerous, Hunter said.
The trees removed this year were deemed the “worst of the worst,” Hunter said. Many were in areas next to structures and gathering places. Some are also near the Lake Spanaway Golf Course and Military Road.
The fungi problem was discovered several years ago after a tree fell and crushed a fence in the park, Stone said. When park officials noticed the rot, they ordered a study of every tree within 100 feet of a structure, road or gathering place.
Arborists drilled and took samples from 1,500 trees and found rot and decay in 250, Stone said.
Because the trees are diseased, they can’t be recycled, Stone said. However, the limbs are being removed, chipped and used for mulch.
Work crews are grinding the stumps for most of the trees to help prevent fungi from spreading to the roots of healthy trees. Some stumps, however, can’t be removed without negatively impacting nearby healthy trees, Hunter said.
New trees will be planted starting in 2018, Stone said. Because the park is mostly Douglas firs, officials plan to add oaks, maples and cedars to make the woods less susceptible to disease.
Stones says the parks department will study trees at the nearby golf course in 2018. Arborists will also study the trees in Bresemann Forest that stands along Military Road.
Similar disease is likely affecting trees in Bresemann Forest, Stones said, but an extensive study and removal project is not planned because it is a natural area with seldom-used trails and no structures.
Nature will be left to run its course, Stone said. “From an arborist’s perspective, if a tree falls and it has nothing to hit, is it a hazard?”