Drive north on 102nd Street just past Westroads Mall, and the victims of drought, disease and a few too many splashes of salt from the road are hard to miss.
A stretch of dead, rust-colored pine trees lining the street has been marked by the City of Omaha for removal. By May, they'll be gone, like pine trees all over the city that have been hit by a perfect combination of tree-killing forces.
City Councilman Pete Festersen said the city's parks department has been working with neighbors in the area on plans to remove — and in some cases, replace — the stately rows of trees. Between Nicholas and Blondo Streets, crews will soon begin taking out 41 trees.
Many of the trees have been dead for years, the victim of pine wilt that's been wiping out pine trees around the Midwest for more than a decade.
“It's a huge issue we have across the whole city,” said Brook Bench, Omaha's acting parks director. “They're continuing to die. We've taken out over 300 pine trees at Fontenelle Park already, and 102nd Street is a stretch of (Scots) and Austrian pines that are all doomed. We have them in parks, in right of ways. Homeowners have them.”
The disease is spread by beetles, and its effects have been more pronounced in recent years, as the area has been through a series of up-and-down weather patterns.
Eric Berg, a community forester with the Nebraska Forest Service, said last summer's series of days with scorching temperatures during the day — and at night — were particularly hard on the trees.
“The pine wilt seems to be worse,” he said. “Most insect diseases will attack and kill weakened trees, but this will easily kill the healthy tree,” he said.
The trees closest to Westroads could also suffer from their proximity to the mall, Berg said. Such a large area of paved space, he said, creates a “convection oven” effect.
Stacy Hughes, co-owner of Terry Hughes Tree Service, said he believes the trees on 102nd Street have been stressed by materials from the road.
“Three or four years ago, they got a lot of winter damage and a lot of salt splash,” he said.
Bench said it's hard to tell how much the city has spent on taking out pine trees, because it's not a specific part of the parks budget. But he said crews are trying to fit in the projects when they have time.
Festersen said the city is looking for grants to help fund the planting of new, disease-resistant varieties such as Douglas fir and Norway spruce.
“It's really discouraging to see that pine wilt is impacting so many great trees throughout the metro,” he said. “We're pleased to be removing a number of trees of concern to residents in this neighborhood. Pine trees are characteristic of that area and we want to maintain that character, where possible.”
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