Whitefish Dunes Beech Trees Coming Down

In June 2008, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a report called “Preparing Wisconsin’s Forests for Beech Bark Disease.” At the time, the Beech scale, a tiny insect that feeds on the beech and allows a fatal fungus to collect in the wounds created by the insect, had not been found in Wisconsin. The report said the closest Beech scale was 75 miles away from the Wisconsin border in Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“If the scale continues to spread rapidly across the Upper Peninsula,” the report stated, “the insect will likely be in Wisconsin within the next 10 years.”

It was the very next year – 2009 – when the Beech scale insect was first discovered in Door County, and has since been found in 11 other Wisconsin counties.

Not quite six years after the DNR Beech report, Whitefish Dunes State Park is so infested with Beech scale that there are fears for the safety of park visitors who could be injured by falling, dead Beech trees.

“We have a lot of nice-sized beech trees, but the disease affects them so greatly and then causes a safety issue on our trail system,” said Fred Viste, park manager. “Safety is our primary concern on this one. The trees, when they’re infected and die, they can snap or fall. We don’t want people getting hurt on the trail system.”

Viste said he had just come back from surveying some of the Beech stands with county foresters and found the number of affected trees “staggering.”

He said the harvesting, expected to begin this month, will remove Beech trees within 75 feet of either side of the park’s trail system, parking lots, picnic areas and park buildings. The harvest will include other trees identified as hazardous if they are leaning toward a designated-use area.

“There are so many dead standing trees along the trails right now,” Viste said. “They can snap off at any time. We’re just trying to prevent that by selecting these beech trees on either side of the trail to prevent any potential harm to our park users.”

Algoma Lumber Company was awarded the contract to harvest the trees.

What happens then will be decided on a tree-by-tree basis, said Dan Kudick of Algoma Lumber.

“If the tree is dead but the wood is still sound it can be utilized for lumber. If a portion of the tree is unsound it will still be utilized in chips for paper,” he said. “Once it enters our mill there really is no waste. It all comes out in bark for landscaping, chips for paper, various grades of lumber used for multiple purposes and sawdust for bedding.”

During the harvest, impacted trails will be closed to the public.

The Door County Highway Department has already removed Beech and other trees on County WD leading to the park.

“What we were cutting was largely a lot of Beech trees that were within the right of way,” said Door County Highway Commissioner John Kolodziej. “There were some other trees we decided to take once we were there and cutting, for safety issues and a place to put the snow. It’s one of those roads, the trees were so close we didn’t have any place to push the snow.”