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Notes from the Willmar Area

By Greg Russell, Area Forester

The spring of 1999 started out cool and damp in west central MN.  This led to a widespread outbreak of ash anthracnose.  Reports of wilting leaves on ash came in from Lac qui Parle to Litchfield.  The anthracnose has been around the area for quite some time, yet this widespread outbreak took local residents by surprise.  After getting out a news release in mid-May, the phone finally stopped ringing on ash related problems.

Beginning with leaf out in late April, my phone was also ringing steadily about the forest tent caterpillar (army worm) infestation.  After seeing nearly 1,500 acres defoliated in the area in 1998, the population exploded this spring.  The infestation runs from south of Litchfield up eastern Meeker County then west thru northern Meeker & Kandiyohi Counties into Wright, Pope & Stearns Counties.  A Bt spray project was undertaken on a lakeshore area adjacent to Sibley State Park.  Sibley State Park contributed some funds to cover the cost of spraying the portion of the park that is located along the lakeshore.  Other DNR involvement was limited to recommending the timing of the application.  I expect more spraying in 2000 as lake owner associations pool their money to protect their lakeshore trees.

Dutch elm disease has reared its head again in the cities of Benson and Granite Falls.  Both of these communities had substantial DED activity in 1998 and both received some MN-ReLeaf grant money for 1999 control efforts.  With both communities having many stately elms along city streets, their efforts are critical.  These and other communities in west central MN still have many streets that are lined with 2' to 3' diameter elms.  Losing these trees would greatly degrade the environment in these communities.  With the help of the MN-ReLeaf grants these communities are able to aggressively deal with this latest bout of DED.

Now, a good note.  A crown rust fungus has hit the buckthorn population of northern Kandiyohi County.  The fungus Puccinia coronata has been confirmed on at least two sites in the county.  One site is in Spicer and the other is south of Sibley State Park.  This disease is affecting both young and old buckthorn shrubs, killing the foliage.  If we get lucky, the shrubs won?t be able to re-sprout from the stump and we will get a few years worth of reprieve from this invasive plant.  Things look promising right now, but we won?t know the extent of the damage until later this summer.  Follow up inspections will occur on the two known sites later in August.  In the meantime, I?ll be looking in other areas to find out how widespread this fungal outbreak is.  For those of you that are not familiar with buckthorn, it is a very aggressive shrub introduced as an ornamental from Europe.  It is a problem throughout the southern part of the state.  It out competes desirable tree seedlings and shrubs.  Thus it is of concern to foresters and wildlife managers alike.

Editor's notes: The Mn Dept. of Agriculture is adding European and glossy buckthorn to the restricted noxious weed list.  Their sale and transport in Mn will be prohibited.

The alternate host of crown rust is oats.  Crown rust is a very destructive disease on oats, hence the placement on the noxious weed list. The same fungus also causes rust on lawn grasses, such as, ryegrass and bluegrass.