Stories

The Forest Care Committee was established to help the CSA Community learn about and manage the forest in and around your cottage and to take action in the light of some pretty concerning things that are happening. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and Beech Bark Disease (BBD) are here at the CSA. This will change the forest quite a bit, and may require you to take action on your lot. But it’s complicated!

Some diseased trees are dangerous, some are not. Some of our trees appear to be resistant to disease, many are not. Some lots will change significantly when trees come down, some will not. Some residents will need to plant replacement trees, others will not.

How do we do this, and work together to preserve the feel and integrity of our woods?

Background:

The Congregational Summer Assembly contains 123 hectares of land between M22 and Lake Michigan. It exists in a beech maple climax forest. The CSA is a matrix of “common” property including CSA buildings, roadways and power lines and “private” property including cottages and surroundings with contiguous forest.

Currently the forest is under significant threat in a number of ways:

Tree Disease: Emerald Ash Borer is predicted to kill >99% of CSA ashes by 2020. Ash makes up an estimated 11% of the trees. The Beech Bark Disease (look for white powdery substance on tree trunks) has also arrived at the CSA. Within the next 8 years, this disease is predicted to weaken and kill >90% of the Beech trees which make up another 14% of the total trees, and represent an even more significant loss to old growth forest canopy.

Invasive species: Invasive species such as garlic mustard and myrtle are present in the forest, preventing the regeneration of forest trees on the forest floor. Loss of the “intergenerational forest” means a loss of future potential for forest trees.

Development: More cars, more parking spaces, more improved septic systems and some new buildings replace a portion of the forest floor. Disturbed forest is more likely to become filled with invasive species, and threatens natural succession of trees.

Climate Change: Michigan climatologists and scientists agree that climate change will result in increased temperature extremes, drought, and extreme weather events.  We can expect there to be increased wind activity in the forest, as well as more extensive periods of drought than we saw in the 20th century. We can also expect more heavy rainfall events that have the capacity increase erosion and damage roadways and other infrastructure.

As we think about the next decade two concerns drive our action: Loss of the old growth forest “feel” that we know and love, and the danger present when large trees die in proximity to frequently used human spaces.  The CSA is actively working to address these problems on common property. We are removing invasive species where appropriate and are monitoring and removing hazard trees.  In order to maintain our forests, and keep our infrastructure safe, we also need to help manage these problems on private lots. Property owners are often here for just a short time, and do not have the resources needed to address significant tree loss during their short vacations. This committee is an effort to provide private property owners with assistance and a set of guidelines so that we can work together to protect the forest and our human resources and to preserve the common experience of living and playing at the assembly.

Challenges:

The tree diseases that are now present in the CSA have been described by a visiting forester as a “semi-truck” moving towards us. With the loss of 25% of our trees over the next decade or two, most private property owners will have no choice but to actively manage and remove hazardous trees. As this challenge emerges we will also need to become active stewards of the forests, removing invasive species (such as garlic mustard to make room for tree regeneration) and working to mitigate the impacts of our human presence as much as possible. Unfortunately, tree removal is most effectively performed in the winter when the ground is frozen and people are gone. Likewise, tree planting, invasive species removal and other forest stewardship activities, are often more effective in the spring and fall. In addition, removal of trees may be cost prohibitive for some families. We currently have no mechanism to “force” the removal of hazard trees from private property. Lastly, forest assessment and management is ultimately taking place in an uncertain world. We don’t know what challenges we will face in the future, and cannot guarantee the success or failure of any tree in our forest.

Opportunities:

The CSA Forest Care committee would like to help private property owners manage their forest by assisting them in doing the responsible thing (in the midst of uncertainty), and coordinating a way to encourage all property owners to do their part in mitigating risk and setting up a healthy future forest. Why should the CSA invest in coordination of what happens on private lots? We all benefit from the feeling of living in the forest. Private lots make up a continuous whole that benefit us all. If we work collectively, as private property owners, we can save significant resources by hiring contractors in a block. Those who are not present or engaged can be brought into a group process without taking significant personal initiative, and we can work together to define the values we hold for the forest. The CSA as an organization has the potential to provide organizational guidance and help to shepherd these group activities. Lastly, if we start to think about our forest ecosystem as similar to a human community we are reminded that while we can never know the future, we can come to understand and predict what might happen in the community and make preparations for the future. Helping assembly members to take responsibility for forward stewardship on private property will result in an assembly that is safe and beautiful in the future.

Purpose of the Committee: 

A) Propose a set of suggested guidelines for management of trees on private lots.  This will include recommendations regarding:

* When and how to remove hazard trees (Ash, Beech) including suggestions on when NOT to take trees down.

* How to manage the forest understory in the wake of the tree die off, including removal of garlic mustard and other species, as well as mitigating the impact of human activity such as compaction of the forest floor, creation of new paths etc.

* Planting selected trees species that are not threatened by disease (e.g. White Oak) when openings arise.

* Erosion Mitigation including assessing erosion potential and taking action to reduce highly erodible areas.

B) Propose a set of processes the will assist property owners in successfully achieving the management recommendations.

Suggestions about Forest Management

Take an inventory of your lot. Educate yourself on what tree species are present- approximately, 75 percent of the CSA forest is maple, beech, or ash, so it is probably not as difficult as you think! Find out whether or not you have any ash or beech trees. See below for further help in identifying the signs of emerald ash borer and beech bark disease.

Be proactive about management! Unless treated the majority of Beech and Ash trees will die within the next decade, so it is important to plan ahead for the financial and ecological burdens this will incur. While there is no effective chemical treatment for the beech trees, there is a very effective systemic insecticide that can be injected into the trunk of healthy ash trees and protect them for two to three years. These trees must be re-treated every two to three years for probably 8-10 years and possibly for the life of the tree, although it is speculated that after the wave of EAB infection passes through the area, ongoing treatment might not be necessary or at least can be less frequent. These conditions are all factors in estimating costs. Large trees that are declining in health and are located near structures such as cottages and roads are a hazard. If a tree is smaller and away from structures, it can be allowed to fall, as it will provide a great source of food for wildlife. The ash borer does not impact the structure of the tree, so a dead ash tree will behave like other dead trees. Trees with advanced beech bark disease, however, are often susceptible to heart and butt rot and thus will come down much more easily in high winds and storms. We are not recommending that you take down beech trees until they are in the second phase of this disease, but once the trees begin to rot on the inside it can be a major safety concern.

Work with the forest care committee to join with other to have your trees removed collectively during the winter. Unless a tree is an immediate safety hazard, it should not be removed during the summer. This is to lessen the damage to understory plants and to prevent constant chainsaw noise. The best time of year to remove trees is in the winter (if the ground is frozen), when many people are not at the CSA. 

What will come next? While you are looking at trees on your lot, make sure to look down by your feet, too! Are there many seedlings and small saplings? These will be the next to grow up to replace the ash and beech trees. If you do not see any seedlings, you may wish to plant other species of trees to re-forest your area. It is also wise to look for any invasive plant species on your lot. These plants are disturbance-adapted, meaning that when the ash and beech trees are harvested, the invasive plants will thrive in the light of the canopy gaps and from the soil being moved around. It is important to manage these problem species before they become out of hand. These plants, by nature, will inhibit seedlings from re-generating and prevent native wildflowers from growing.