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Today in the high winds I noticed the Buffalo Woman tree seemed to be leaning more. The fall line potentially included the goat fencing and potentially the goats themselves.
Once I notice something like this, I can not abide it. Safety of the people, animals, historic and natural resources are of the utmost importance to us. This pine was heavily impacted by Hurricane Ian though it yet stands. Unfortunately, the damage it sustained in the storm is terminal. Pine trees, though they may not fall, are tremendously taxed by the high winds and water of hurricanes. Ian loaded both of those barrels. The shaking causes damage to the root system that compromises the health of the tree. Depending on the degree of the lean gravity may do the rest quickly, dropping the tree to the ground.
There is another way that shaking results in the death of the tree. As many of us know, pine has a specific and pleasant scent. This quality is due to aromatic hydrocarbons. When a tree is stressed the chemical signature of these hydrocarbons changes. While we may not detect it, others can. Very small beetles, initially all male, are attracted to the scent of the tree’s illness and decline. They flock to it. These male Ips beetles start boring through to the living part of the tree called the phloem. Essentially this is the vascular system through which the tree takes up water and nutrients. A tree that is still healthy enough will protect itself by producing a chemical defense of thick sticky pitch “tree sap” to try to stave off the tiny intruders.
Unfortunately, especially after some time passes following the hurricane, the tree becomes too compromised to fight. At this point the tiny males produce a pheromone, a chemical scent, that beckons to the females of their species. This summons lets the ladies know that a suitable tree for eating and breeding has been found and they are invited to join the party. Populations establish, feed on the phloem and raise young. This is problematic for a weakened tree, but wait! The beetle isn’t done with its assault. The tiny insects often carry spores of a fungi on their bodies. The bluestain fungi might be an even bigger problem than the infestation damage, but, working alongside the beetle, the tree is rendered terminally damaged and defenseless. Once the beetles and fungi have depleted the tree to inhospitable conditions, the mature beetles leave their natal tree looking for new compromised trees to colonize. What’s left is a dead pine often referred to as a “snag.” These dead trees that yet stand make excellent habitat for several species. If the snag poses no threat of harm, should be allowed to stand and fall naturally.
Unfortunately this pine was a high risk tree and felling it was the safest option. I chose a single angular cut to slowly control the fall knowing that a vertical splinter was likely. This is why you stand clearly to the side of your cut. Cutting in at a 45* angle, I proceeded slowly, only severing half of the heartwood from each side. As I cut I watched closely the progression of gravity stress. The tree fell exactly as I’d planned. Only some minor distal ends of canopy branches contacted the fence. These caused no damage and were cut as special goat treats (do not over feed goats on pine needles, avoid allowing pregnant does to eat them.) I was able to gently push the trunk off of the splintered stump and then safely cut the splinter.
This tree, like many others, will be repurposed right on CMNC property for varying projects made possible by our sawmill. Unfortunately many others will have to be harvested as well. Some however, will be left as habitat for many species. We have found that several woodpeckers, fox & grey squirrels, bats, rats, reptiles, amphibians, scorpions and other insects love the snags. Traveling birds like to use them as easily accessible perches. Once they fall, they serve several new purposes and decompose to become part of the soil structure.
Ips beetle infestations seem to peak after hurricanes like Ian then eventually taper off. On a quiet evening, if you stand near an infected tree, you can hear them working at their task. It’s amazing that these several metric ton giants can fall victim to tiny beetles and fungal spores, but nature is amazing.
We anticipate the fallout and clean up efforts from Hurricane Ian to last up to 2 years from the initial event. We appreciate your patience as we work diligently to overcome each obstacle in recovery. Nature can and will recover, natural lands like CMNC can heal themselves. We will allow it to happen as naturally as possible while maintaining safety and the integrity of the natural and cultural resources.