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Disease strikes stately oaks

Disease strikes stately oaks

Fungus killing trees in Bellevue Cemetery

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It’s a bit ironic, because the cemetery is usually the resting place for the departed, not the departing.

Some of the oak trees in Bellevue Cemetery have been infected with a fungal disease, and they are fading. Bellevue City Councilman Don Preister said oak wilt is killing the trees.

“The roots of the adjoining trees causes it to spread, and it also spreads through the bark by beetles,” Preister said. “There’s little we can do.”

One option is to cut down the trees before they die, but that is a financial challenge because they must be cut down carefully to avoid damage to gravestones. But if action isn’t taken, Preister said, the trees could become dangerous if left to wilt.

The City is working with the Nebraska Forest Service, the Bellevue Public Works Department and the Bellevue Parks Department to assess and manage the situation. The primary problem, however, is the trees are connected underground and the disease will most likely spread further.

Preister said another emerging tree issue is the emerald ash borer, a beetle that is highly destructive to ash trees. The U.S. Forest Service lists the insect as an invasive species introduced to North America in the 1990s, first recorded killing trees in Detroit in 2002.

The bug, while not yet in Nebraska, is on its way, according to Preister.

The pest was reported in several counties in eastern Iowa this summer.

“When it gets here, we’ll see many ash trees affected, unfortunately,” he said.

As for oak wilt, two oak trees near the center of Bellevue Cemetery already look distressed.

Despite mild fall weather, most of the limbs are bare near the middle and high parts of the tree. The very top still holds leaves but, the foliage looks wilted and frail.

Fontenelle Forest will also be a primary concern if this disease spreads more, Preister said.

“We’re looking into what we can do, but it’s not just the cemetery, it’s the whole area we have to work on,” he said. “It’s too early to tell how much this is going to cost.”

Graham Herbst is the Eastern Nebraska community forestry specialist and is helping the city figure out what to do about the tree situation.

He said oak wilt combined with soil disturbance and a lack of air circulation may be the combination that is killing the oaks.

“Multiple factors lead to the trees dying, usually not just a virus or an insect,” he said. While treatments are possible, they are most likely not financially feasible. The answer to prevent this problem, he said, is to plant a diverse array of tree species.

“There’s nothing Bellevue could have done differently, however. You work with what you have, and it is a beautiful cemetery, but there are impacts of having those trees in a cemetery,” Herbst said.

The emerald ash borer is also causing hysteria, Herbst said. While it hasn’t been confirmed to be in Nebraska yet, it has shown up in Creston, Iowa, and Boulder, Colo.

“We won’t see it here in the near future, and I don’t want people panicking about it yet, but there are decisions to be made how to handle it if it does come here,” he said.

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