Pleasant Ridge crafts ordinance meant to stop spread of oak wilt

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 22, 2019

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PLEASANT RIDGE — The city of Pleasant Ridge is taking precautions in regard to trimming oak trees that are suffering from oak wilt.

At its Nov. 12 meeting, the City Commission approved an ordinance declaring that oak trees can’t be trimmed by Pleasant Ridge homeowners or third-party entities such as DTE Energy between April 1 and Oct. 31, as the safe period to work on the infected trees takes place from Nov. 1 to March 31.

While oak wilt hasn’t been found in any trees yet in Pleasant Ridge, according to City Manager James Breuckman, it has been found nearby, and this ordinance will help prevent the fungus from spreading, as the trimming and cutting would be done during the dormant period for the disease.

The only exception would be an emergency in which an oak has been damaged by a storm or other external causes.

“Oak wilt is a fungal disease that can devastate oak trees — particularly red oaks — and it’s a devastating disease because it’s transmitted through the roots,” Breuckman said. “One tree that gets the infection can spread (it) to any tree that is connected through the root system.”

Pleasant Ridge is a city that contains many mature oak trees, said Breuckman, and with how trees connect root systems underground and share resources, if one tree gets oak wilt, all of the oaks in that stand are likely to die.

“It’s very difficult to deal with when you have one tree that gets the disease or the fungus, because you then either have to cut all the roots to separate the trees or you know you’re just losing all of them,” he said. “It could be a very, very problematic thing.”

The reason the city doesn’t want any trees trimmed from spring to early fall also has to do with sap-feeding beetles, which can transmit the wilt to unaffected trees.

This is why, Breuckman said, tree wounds need to be sealed, because the beetles are attracted to the fresh wounds and the sap.

“Within 24 to 48 hours, you can have a beetle that transmits the fungus who is attracted to that sap,” he said. “Ideally, you want to get that prune sealed up very, very quickly.”

With storm-damaged trees, Breuckman said it’s the responsibility of the property owner or a contractor to repair them, removing the jagged surfaces and sealing the wounds.

City Commissioner Jason Krzysiak shared his concern that if a tree was noticeably damaged, the city would order a resident to remove the tree and put that cost on the homeowner.

“Just quoting to get a tree trimmed in this neighborhood can be very costly,” he said. “It’s something where, ‘OK, now the city’s saying I have to remove this tree; my budget may be a little tight.’ I mean, for me, that’s a concern as a homeowner.”

Breuckman said the ordinance doesn’t state anything about the city ordering a tree removed.

“Generally, if a tree is damaged enough by a storm or a break that it has to be removed, in my experience, most of that tree is already on the ground,” he said.