A New Face for Minnesota Releaf

With the start of the new fiscal year, new funding for the Minnesota Releaf cost-share program has been allocated. With it will come a whole new approach to urban and community forestry assistance, one that promotes integrated resource management for long term forest sustainability. At the request of the MN legislature, the program will be broadened and refocused to address forest health management in a more holistic way. Many more practices will be added to those that can be cost-shared. Up-front consulting on grant writing and program development, training for community staff and map data on key natural resources will also be among the offerings provided by the new program. The combination of new cost-shared practices and community assistance has many excited about future prospects for the health of our forest resources.

Resource Assessment

The first step in effective forest management is to gain a thorough understanding of the resource, its history and its problems. As such, stand and street tree inventories and forest health assessments will be funded within the context of the Releaf program. Funding can be used to determine what species are present and what their maintenance needs are. For instance, street trees could be inventoried to identify pruning needs and hazard trees that need to be removed. Native stands in community parks could be inventoried to describe biodiversity or determine if there is sufficient natural regeneration to ensure future sustainability. Releaf funding can also be used to quantify existing damage or predict the likelihood of future damage. Examples include mapping oak wilt pockets, taking an inventory of pine stands under attack by pine bark beetles or assessing the risk of future damage by the gypsy moth by determining the proportion in preferred host species.

To help get communities started, each Releaf community will be provided with a set of maps that contain some basic information about the natural resources present. The data provided will include roads, streams, lakes, significant plant communities, the presence of threatened and endangered species, cultural features like archeological sites, and state and federal land boundaries. Communities can use the information in their planning process and to help them prioritize management needs. The data can then serve as the skeleton upon which new data can be added as it is collected over time.

Tree Planting

The emphasis of tree planting has shifted from energy conservation to forest health management as a whole. While their use in energy conservation is well recognized, plantings can also be used to increase biodiversity, reduce future risk of damage or restore areas damaged in the past. When combined with other practices, tree plantings become a critical part of long-term sustainability. So cost-share funding for tree planting will be added back into the program after several years without funding.

Forest Health

To address long-term sustainability, the Releaf Technical Advisory Committee outlined forest health issues most likely to cause tree mortality. The four they came up with include oak wilt, Dutch elm disease, pine bark beetles and the gypsy moth. Hazard trees were added to the list because of the impact on community resources and the need to ensure public safety before other issues can be realistically addressed. For each of these issues (and the potential for new pest issues to arise), criteria were developed to help make the best use of the money available. Where needed, boundaries were described to keep one issue or region from dominating the pool of funds.

Oak Wilt

Active management of oak wilt has demonstrated that this disease can be controlled. However the rate of spread in developing areas as a result of construction damage nearly matches the current level of management at the community level. Where storm events have increased the number and distribution of tree wounds, the incidence of oak wilt is out-pacing state and local resources. As a result, oak wilt management has to be more focused in the future, namely, slowing down the spread of oak wilt in a community or township by reducing the number of new infection centers. To reduce the source of new infection centers, participating landowners will have root grafts severed and with then have the choice of (1) a three-year inspection program during which all symptomatic trees within the red oak group are to be removed and all symptomatic trees within the white oak group are to be removed or macro-injected with Propiconizol or (2) a treat-to-the line (TTL) approach, where all potential spore producing trees (PSPT) are removed and all healthy oaks in the affected oak group (i.e. red versus white oak group) inside the primary line are treated, i.e. either macro-injected with Propiconizol or removed. In addition to plowing and PSPT removal, the cost of inspections and TTL practices (including TTL-associated fungicide injections), are considered eligible practices. Funding fungicide injections under certain conditions is a significant change in state policy and reflects the state of knowledge within the industry and a commitment to adaptive management.

Dutch Elm Disease (DED)

Dutch elm disease management has largely driven urban and community forest management since the 1970's. Many communities initiated disease control programs when state funding first became available. As state funding became more and more scarce, many communities elected to drop their program. However, those programs that are still active have largely kept pace with the disease and protected a significant proportion of their original elm resource.

In recent years, however, environmental conditions have led to an increase in disease incidence at a time when community funds are being dramatically cut. Using state funds at this time serves to further the commitment of those communities still trying to protect their elm resource and to provide temporary assistance in the face of increased disease pressure. Renewed state funding could help smaller communities struggling to maintain existing programs. Thus, communities that can demonstrate both a long-term commitment to disease control and a change in incidence beyond current resources will be eligible for Releaf funding.

Pine Bark Beetles

The two major forest health issues facing communities with pine plantations are bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires. Both risks can be mitigated by regular pine thinning. Thinning sanitizes and improves the stand by removing trees that are damaged, attacked by bark beetles, infected by disease, low in vigor or that have poor form. Thinning also reduces fuel loads and can be designed to reduce fire intensity so that structures are not as vulnerable to wildfires. Where the need to manage pine plantations is primarily driven by the risk of fire, property owners are advised to seek funding through Firewise, another source of community funding for pine management. But where bark beetles are an issue, communities can look to Minnesota Releaf to protect their pine resource.

Oak Decline and Gypsy Moths

Oak decline is associated with accumulated stress caused by a number of factors, such as poor growing conditions, old age, drought and storm events, fire, construction damage, and insect and disease outbreaks. Once the gypsy moth arrives in Minnesota, we expect gypsy moth defoliation to dramatically increase tree stress levels and the incidence of oak decline. The result will be significant tree mortality in some areas.

In order to lessen the potential impacts of these combined stressors, silvicultural practices are advised. Given the time frame needed for forests to respond, land managers need to start now. The strategy is to increase stand vigor to reduce the risk of stress-related tree mortality and/or to increase the forest component in tree species not preferred by the gypsy moth by planting a mix of species appropriate for that site. See Table below for a list of preferred tree hosts. Both practices are eligible for Releaf cost sharing.

Table 1. Categorization of gypsy moth host preferences *


Overstory species

Understory species

Species readily eaten by all caterpillar stages.

All oak, bigtooth and quaking aspen, basswood, paper and river birch, larch, mountain-ash, tamarack, willow, red alder and apple.

Hawthorn, hazelnut, hop hornbeam, hornbeam, serviceberry, witch-hazel.

Less preferred
Species fed upon when preferred species are unavailable and by older caterpillar stages.

Yellow birch, boxelder, butternut, black walnut, sweet and black cherry, eastern cottonwood, American elm, Siberian elm** , Chinese elm, hackberry, hickory, Norway maple**, red and sugar maples, all pine, all spruce, buckeye* and pear*.

Blueberries, pin cherry, chokecherry, sweet fern.

Species that are rarely fed upon.

All ash, E. red cedar, balsam fir, silver maple, slippery elm, N. catalpa*, Kentucky coffee tree*, horse chestnut*, sycamore*, black locust**, honey* locusts and red mulberry**.

Dogwood, elderberry, grape, greenbrier, juniper, mountain and striped maple, raspberry, viburnum and buckthorn**

* Commonly planted urban species. Use in woodlands is not recommended.
** Species that can be invasive. Gypsy moth defoliation may increase their competitive edge if left in a managed stand.

Hazard Trees

Normal maintenance including pruning and hazard tree removal is considered an integral part of any community forestry program. As such, these practices have not been included among those eligible for past Releaf grants. However, in recognition of the fact that initiating a new community forest health program can be an expensive undertaking, grant funds are being made available on a one-time basis to communities initiating new hazard tree programs.

Integrated Forest Management

Releaf announcements will be in the mail by June 1st. Grant applications are due July 1st. Check with your local officials to see if they will be submitting a grant request and support them where possible through out the process. The goal is to fund programs committed to forest sustainability through integrated forest management. Beyond that, need (and not polish) will determine the best use of ReLeaf funds.