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The Minnesota Program: Community Partnerships For Effective Pest Control

Thomas G. Eiber, Ph.D., C.E. - Forest Ecosystem Health Specialist, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 1200 Warner Road, St. Paul, Minnesota 55119-5848.

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


Introduction

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 trees.

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:

  1. 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 procedures;
  2. 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;
  3. Participating communities must adopt a tree disease control ordinance in compliance with state statutes (Chapter 18.023); and
  4. 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.

Summary

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.

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USDA Forest ServiceUSDA APHIS PPQ The Bugwood Network University of Georgia Invasive.org is a joint project of The Bugwood Network, USDA Forest Service and USDA APHIS PPQ.
The University of Georgia - Warnell School of Forest Resources and
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Dept. of Entomology
Last updated on Wednesday, March 20, 2002 at 11:02 AM
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