Wildlife Wednesday: It's Beech Season for Beech Bark Disease

Sarah Topp Sarah Topp
Two of Michigan’s mast-producing trees are being impacted by disease. Mast producing trees are essential to wildlife as they provide a primary food source in the form of nuts, seeds, buds, or fruits.  I previously posted a blog about oak wilt disease affecting red oak, which is still in the critical period of susceptibility until July 15th, but our American beech trees are also at risk of beech bark disease. These trees stand out the most to me as I’m sitting patient and still in my tree stand during regular firearm season.  They are the only deciduous trees that hold onto their dead foliage well into the winter months. I often get too excited and mistake the flicker of their golden leaves as movement in the distance for just a moment. It’s sad to think that those few mature beech trees and many saplings may all dissipate over time.
The white, wooly appearance of a beech tree infested with beech bark disease The white, woolly appearance of a beech tree infested with beech bark disease
Beech bark disease is caused by both a sap-feeding scale insect and a fungus. American beech trees are first infested with beech scale, which then allows infection by the Neonectria fungus. The scales are covered with white wool, turning infested portions of the tree white. This fungus kills the wood by blocking the flow of sap through the tree. The largest trees are most susceptible. Scale-infested trees with apparently healthy crowns are a hazard due to beech snap-a condition in which the trunk is weakened and will snap in high winds. Affected trees decline in health and eventually die within three to six years.
Volunteer George Fenlin plants 1 of 50 red oaks at an OTG event Volunteer George Fenlin plants 1 of 50 red oaks at an OTG event
Michigan has about 32 million American Beech trees and over 2.5 million of them have been killed by beech bark disease to date. Much of this loss has been in the eastern Upper Peninsula. However, newly infested beech forests are reported in the Lower Peninsula every year. Although the disease has spread, there are some things you each can do to prevent it from spreading further and also to help area’s recover from the loss of this important mast producing tree species!
Controlling the natural spread of beech bark disease is not feasible because both the scale and fungus are moved by animals and the wind, but we can eliminate one vector- our firewood. Don’t move beech firewood or logs from infested areas to uninfested areas. Once the scale infests trees in your area, watch for resistant trees and report new finds. About three percent of American beech is resistant to the disease; this small percent is essential to the recovery of the species as they can be used to produce more resistant American beech for the future.
George Fenlin volunteered for his 5th OTG event at the UP tree planting George Fenlin volunteered for his 5th OTG event at the UP tree planting
While preventative measures are important to be aware of, being proactive is just as crucial.  MUCC’s On the Ground program has been and is now a great advocate of being proactive. Last year, OTG coordinated with the DNR to plant 135 oak trees for wildlife near Shingleton and Au Train in the Upper Peninsula. Planting red oaks and other mast producing trees will help to recover the browse that is lost to wildlife as infested beech trees are dying off. Don’t miss your opportunity to pitch in with OTG and help us plant 140 more oaks this Sunday, May 24th in the Gwinn State Forest; sign up to volunteer here! Make a camping weekend out of it explore some of the area’s great outdoor activities with family and friends; I will be!

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