The Minnesota Program: Community Partnerships For Effective Pest Control
From: Exotic Pests of Eastern Forests, Conference Proceedings - April 8-10, 1997, Nashville, TN, Edited by: Kerry O. Britton, USDA Forest Service & TN Exotic Pest Plant Council
Oak wilt, a fungal disease of all oak species, continues to be the primary
cause of oak mortality in Minnesota. The oak type covers over 650,000 acres
in Minnesota and is made up of six species. Forest industry adds $1 billion
to the state's economy by harvesting and utilizing oak. In our communities,
oak is our most valuable shade tree providing energy conservation, beauty,
sound and visual protection, and wildlife habitat.
Since 1987, surveys have identified just over 6,000 infection centers
in 19 southeastern counties. Most of the disease is concentrated in the
urban areas of the Twin Cities and Rochester, but most rural counties also
have notable numbers of infection centers as well. While the question of
whether or not oak wilt is native or exotic to Minnesota can be legitimately
debated, there is little question that it poses a far greater risk to urban
forest ecosystems than it does to rural systems. In urban areas, where trees
are frequently wounded during the spring by activities ranging from home
construction to tree pruning, the disease spreads much like an exotic, by
leapfrogging and moving with little natural control.
Even though the fungus is closely related to the Dutch elm disease fungus
taxonomically, it is not another Dutch elm disease in its spread. It is
not as easily spread by insects and existing centers can be effectively
controlled by severing the root systems between infected and healthy trees.
A federally-assisted program began in 1991 and will draw to an end this
December (1997). During this period time, over 4,500 infection centers will
have been treated in the seven county project area (Anoka, Chisago, Dakota,
Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington). As of August, 1996, over 1,000,000
feet of control line had been established. During this time, prevention
programs have been developed by communities that have lowered the incidence
of new disease dramatically.
The Oak Wilt Suppression Program
It has been known for many years now that oak wilt can be controlled
through the development of an integrated program of prevention and suppression.
Until recently, organized efforts focused only on prevention action based
on education. Active suppression efforts were largely left to individual
communities and homeowners on a pay-as-you-work basis.
Active oak wilt suppression revolves around two activities: (1) suppression
of the disease at active infection centers and (2) elimination of spores
likely to generate new infection centers away from existing infection centers.
Three practices, intended to deal with oak wilt, are approved for cost share
assistance. These are (1) mechanically severing root grafts by vibratory
plowing to a depth of 54" (60" plow blade), (2) trenching to a
depth of 48" where the vibratory plowing is not possible, and (3) to
eliminate the ability of the disease to form new infection centers by eliminating
spore producing trees (SPT) through removal and treatment of freshly killed
The first shot in Minnesota's War with Oak Wilt was heard in 1991 when
the Minnesota DNR and the US Forest Service cooperatively purchased a vibratory
plow for oak wilt work in the heart of the Oak Wilt epidemic, Anoka County.
The plow was titled to Anoka County under a five year contract that required
the maintenance and availability of the plow for 5 years. In order to encourage
plow use by communities in an organized fashion, the plow was made available
to work on public and private lands in communities that had an oak wilt
action plan. This was step one in community involvement. The plow has been
quite busy since 1992.
Beginning in July of 1992, the DNR began to distribute federal cooperative
suppression funds to communities that (1) have an action plan, (2) that
lie on the Anoka Sand Plain, and (3) have completed an oak wilt inventory.
These funds, approximately $1.6 million have been distributed since 1991,
were provided to communities as a block grant from which they could draw
to fund their program on an as need basis. The use of these funds requires
a 50:50 match by the local community. The match can include any combination
of community dollars, private homeowner dollars, and "in-kind"
time by community employees and citizen volunteers.
We choose to "grant" monies to communities as a block at the
beginning of the program rather than the traditional "contract program"
in which a community would undertake the work, pay the bills, and then bill
the state for the cost share. Given the budgetary limitations extant in
many communities, this approach would effectively eliminate local community
participation by creating a cash flow problem. Even though communities would
be assured that expended funds would be replaced, many communities, particularly
smaller ones, do not hold sufficient cash reserves to fund a reimbursement
program. By granting a block of funds and requiring that communities set
them aside in a special, dedicated account for oak wilt, we were able to
avoid creating a cash flow problem for local units.
Criteria For Participation
The Forest Health Committee, an arm of the state's Shade Tree Advisory
Committee (STAC), developed a series of criteria for community participation
in the Oak Wilt Suppression Cost Share Program (CSP). The administering
agency, DNR-Forestry, adopted these guidelines and provided program assistance,
both technical and fiscal, to communities operating within the guidelines.
The basic guidelines are:
- Participating communities must develop a control plan that addresses
the entire community. This plan must cover the entire community within
three years. This does not mean "treatment" within three years,
but implementation of an over all plan for the entire community within
three years. This plan must include details of a budget, an estimate of
expenditures, an implementation strategy, an education program to educate
builders and developers, identify staff including tree inspectors and professional
foresters capable of oak wilt work, requirement for appropriate oak wilt
control work on all control sites, and proper accounting and reporting
- Participating communities must update their oak wilt inventory on an
annual basis. This includes identification of new infection centers and
reporting of suppression actions. In addition, communities must evaluate
spore production potential for trees in control areas and assure that appropriate
treatments are taken to prevent the movement of spores;
- Participating communities must adopt a tree disease control ordinance
in compliance with state statutes (Chapter 18.023); and
- Participating communities must assure that all control work is done
in accordance with current control recommendations as approved by the Forest
Health Committee. This includes inspection of treated sites for "escapes"
for at least three years after treatment.
Working With Builders and Developers
There is little doubt that home construction causes oak wilt. As sure
as April melts the snows of winter, spring brings home construction in Minnesota.
Few activities seem to create more new oak wilt infection centers than the
concentrated wounding of trees caused by construction. I have some times
wondered if oak wilt drops by city hall to get a list of building permits
in the spring. How else could it know? Sixty percent of our centers arise
from new construction. Many communities have developed effective programs
for protecting trees on construction sites. It is clearly to their advantage
to do so. Wooded lots bring premium prices, commonly 20 to 40%. In addition,
homes with trees usually bring better prices when sold, raising tax revenues
by 5-10% in a state with market valuation-based property taxes.
The City of Blaine (Anoka County) requires the preparation of a tree
protection plan by a qualified forester for any lot with "significant"
trees (usually >6" D.B.H.). In effect, they require the treatment
of tree disease before the home can be built, thereby reducing subsequent
costs after service lines are in place. Without doubt, the most effective
provision is the requirement that protective fencing be erected around significant
trees. Done largely to prevent soil compaction, this fence prevents wounding
of oaks to a significant degree. Enforcement is simple, building inspectors
(electrical, plumbing, etc.) will not inspect a house if the tree preservation
fence is not in place. The word does get out. You would be truly amazed
how fast the fence gets repaired when the cement truck has to wait, churning
its load, waiting for an inspection that is delayed waiting for fencing
to be replaced.
Giving The Communities "Ownership"
I encourage communities in the CSP to tell home owners where the cost-share
monies come from, but I have yet to slap a hand for a flier that failed
to mention the federal or state role. Most homeowners see their local tree
inspector on site and get the cost share check from the city clerk. It becomes
their program. Years ago, I was on a citizen advisory committee that designed
a program to plan trees in a "bad neighborhood" with vandalism
problems. We gave the homeowners the trees, they planted them on the boulevard,
at least most of them, but the real amazement came the next year when we
checked survival. Ninety eight point eight percent. Out of 500 trees, only
a scant few had died. Vandalism? Two trees. Homeowners saw these trees as
theirs. I heard several stories of a "spirited defense" of a tree
by the homeowner. OWNERSHIP COUNTS!
In the case of the oak wilt program, the communities and their citizens
see these programs as "theirs." Its hard to find a DNR or USFS
logo anywhere. The recommendation is obvious. Design your program to give
the program a local, home-grown feel. As the administrator of the program,
it used to drive me nuts that I was less than all knowing in my project.
Someone, a homeowner or my boss, would call with a question about some specific
action in community X. I didn't know the answer on many occasions. My answer,
to the homeowner, was to call their community program manager.
The bottom line is that the local community programs do not need to be
photocopies of each other to be effective. Actually, I suspect, they work
better if they aren't. Let the program flow into the way business gets done
in the community. Serendipity rules here. One unplanned benefit, is that
effectively every participating community has begun to take responsibility
for handling requests for information about tree health. We, DNR, have become
technical consultants and advisors. One community ultimately made their
forester an "environmental protection officer" looking after wetlands
and "green" areas. Another community formed a Tree Board to administer
the oak wilt program. Ultimately they hired a community forester and tree
inspector. They now have spring tree sales. Hallelujah!.
Administrivia: The KISS Principle
Keep the administrative detail simple. Many communities avoid state and
federal programs unless they are mandated into them. Why? Simple. Administrivia.
We have a contract with each community that sets forth some very simple
rules. One, keep the funds in a separate account. Don't get them lost in
with park and recreation accounts or even Dutch elm disease funds. Two,
assume that communities have legitimate accounting and purchasing systems.
Use them. Don't require an entirely new set of rules, procedures, and what
have you. Three, keep reporting simple. I'm not a finance officer and don't
pretend to be one. Keep your reporting forms to one page and questions to
what you really need to generate the reports you need for you fiscal reporting.
Let the finance people do their job, both in your organization and in the
local community. Follow the KISS Principle, Keep It Simple.
Praise Good Work
My mother left me with much wisdom, although I didn't know it at the
time. She used to tell me "If you can't say anything nice, don't say
anything at all." The communities will make mistakes. Don't land on
them like a ton of bricks, bend over and help fix the problem. You only
score points for successes. I work with over 125 communities in 70+ grant
programs. Have they made mistakes? You betch'a. Have we fixed them? Uh-huh.
I have yet to see any thing that approaches blatant misconduct. Lighten
up, this isn't brain surgery.
Moreover, compliment good work. We held a very public award ceremony
this past August. Attended by over 150 people, our senior senator gave the
keynote, the local congressman drove the plow for the millionth foot, 12
communities were given an oak tree and a plaque for their excellent work.
Work that had been evaluated by the state's Forest Health Committee. Twenty
communities showed up along with the Boy Scouts and enough media to keep
5 media specialists quite busy. It was quite a day. We, the program administrators
and grantors, had the chance to say, "Thank you, Well Done." Many
of these "Honor Role" communities went back home and had another
ceremony to plant their tree. Really good thunder rolls on and on. So does
a good compliment. Don't be afraid to hand a few out.
Building on the foundations laid by this and other programs, we will
continue developing partnerships with local communities by providing cost-share
monies and technical assistance. These programs will operate at the local
level, blending in with other community services following guidelines commonly
established by MSTAC and other advisory groups.