Arborist offers help for trees

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

The November and December rain and wind storms knocked trees down all over the Plateau, leaving people with questions about the remaining trees left blowing in the wind.

The danger of trees falling on a house is a serious and potentially life-threatening matter, but the city of Bonney Lake's arborist Dennis Tompkins has some reassuring words: “don't panic.”

The most recent windstorm blew down a large number of trees in and around Bonney Lake. There were also blowdowns in Buckley and some in Enumclaw.

Inside the Washington State University Demonstration Forest about 30 trees fell, considerably fewer than during the Feb. 17 storm when 250 were toppled.

After the February storm, the university hired Ken Russell, a tree pathologist from Olympia, to assess the damage to the forest and the extent of laminated root rot, a fungal disease common in Douglas firs in the region.

Combined with blowdowns and the disease, more than 1,000 trees were marked and are in the process of being logged.

After the most recent storm, Russell and Tompkins marked about 50 more trees with signs of advanced root rot.

Tompkins said the disease is common in urban forests.

“It's a very natural condition,” Tompkins said. “A forest is always evolving. This disease has persisted for decades. It will be there forever.”

Tompkins said Douglas firs are the most susceptible, while hemlocks are less likely to contract the disease and cedars are highly resistant.

For residents with trees that are possibly infected and in danger of falling on their homes, Tompkins suggests calling in an arborist to determine if fallen trees in the area have root rot and if those left standing are in danger.

Homeowners, according to Tompkins, can check the roots of nearby fallen trees for softness, stringiness, mushiness or white colored flecks. If any of these symptoms are present, nearby trees may be infected. During a storm a homeowner can check the ground around a tree and if it is shaking or rippling, there is likely a problem with the tree.

The disease is often spread by root-to-root contact and may take 10 years or more to seriously weaken a tree enough to cause it to blow down.

There are other reasons a tree may be weakened, Tompkins said. Clearing an area for construction can weaken root systems, as does changes in drainage areas.

In the forest, Tompkins found numerous examples of the disease in various stages of development. He examined stumps with brown stains. The more staining, the more advanced the disease. Eventually the center of the tree begins to rot. The fungus will decay the roots and move up through the tree.

With an arborist's help, Tompkins said a homeowner can best assess the risk. Some trees may need to be removed, or a high-risk tree may be able to be topped so it will not fall on a house. Arborist usually do not suggest topping trees, but a diseased tree that is topped can become a wildlife refuge for birds and other animals as it decays.

“Rather than just going out and taking out all the trees (after a storm), try to determine if there is disease or what caused a tree to fall,” Tompkins said.

Dennis Box can be reached at

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