If the legislature had not finally acted when it did, the American elm would have been essentially eliminated from Minnesota
When talking about Dutch elm disease in forest pathology classes, an instructor could note that not much support was forthcoming from the state legislature until a magnificent elm in front of the State Capitol succumbed to Dutch elm disease in 1973. It has, in fact, been occasionally suggested by individuals that the tree was deliberately inoculated with the fungus, but that is not likely to have been the case. Several other elms on the Capitol grounds also died that year. The story does, however, poetically suggest that perhaps something so dramatic could have been done in the early 1960s to shake the legislature into acting sooner to enable control of the disease.
One of the early attempts to engage the legislature occurred in 1955. In that year an effort was made to convince a legislative committee that Dutch elm disease was going to threaten Minnesotas elms and that the best time to deal with the disease was before it arrived. The request of the committee was for an allocation of $5,000. It would have been a small price to pay for delaying the onset of Dutch elm disease.
The next attempt to influence the legislature took the form of a committee with membership drawn from state and federal agencies and the University of Minnesota. The universitys representatives included Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station personnel as well as extension representatives from the Departments of Plant Pathology, Entomology, and Forestry. State of Minnesota representatives came from the Division of Plant Industry of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Division of Forestry of the Department of Conservation (now known as the Department of Natural Resources). The federal government was represented by individuals from the Lake States Forest Experiment Station of the U.S. Forest Service.
This committee was organized in 1958-59 but very little resulted from its efforts. One thrust of their activities was the attempt to encourage regulating agencies to restrict the movement into Minnesota of elm with bark; but no positive actions were taken by any of those agencies.
The committees second, and probably more important objective, was to publicize the threat of Dutch elm disease and prepare educational materials. Though this was done, the efforts appeared to have had no appreciable effect on the progress of events. At about the same time that the committee was operating, the Department of Agriculture requested $10,000 from a legislative Interim Committee on Forestry. Though this legislative committee seemed to be supportive of the need, no funds were made available.
In 1973, under the guidance of the Metropolitan Inter-County Council and its executive director, James Shipman, a new ad hoc committee was assembled. Representation on this committee included people from Minnesotas Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, and the University of Minnesota, plus the city foresters of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington.
This committee met many times during the year and prepared a report whose recommendations included the appointment of a Shade Tree Advisory Committee to advise both the Commissioner of Agriculture and the public on how best to control tree diseases such as Dutch elm disease and oak wilt. The committee was established and continues in existence today.
Eventually, after many disappointing experiences dealing with subcommittees and committees of both the Minnesota House of Representatives and the State Senate, and with the impact of Dutch elm disease becoming clear within Minnesota, the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the biennium of 1976-77. In the following biennium $28.6 million was appropriated.
The $28.6 million appropriation was undoubtedly the largest single sum of money ever spent by any state any time in history to control essentially a single tree disease (a very small portion of the appropriation was directed toward control efforts for oak wilt).
Several people and organizations played particularly important roles in helping to achieve an effective state-wide control program. Key legislators included former State Senator Skip Humphrey and the most important person of all, former State Representative Tom Berg. Many individuals provided invaluable testimony to help sway the opinions of legislators. This testimony came from Dave French of the University of Minnesota, and from Peter Grills and others with the Department of Agriculture. Down the home stretch, as the final legislative appropriation votes approached, Don Willeke, a Minneapolis lawyer and chairperson of the Shade Tree Advisory Committee, was a key person. Outside organizations such as the First Minneapolis Bank also helped. First Minneapolis Bank, for instance, housed an answering service established to respond to the many inquires coming from the public.
It needs to also be appreciated that the $28.6 million was not even the whole of the money spent for Dutch elm disease control in Minnesota in that biennium. In fact, the money was primarily used as matching funds for communities participating in the control programs. Taking into account these matched dollars, the actual amount spent on Minnesotas Dutch elm disease control programs was closer to $60 million during the 1977-78 period. Even the portions of appropriated funds used for research and for utilization grants were matched by funds from other sources.
Many have asked if the Legislature acted too late to save the elms. The answer is both yes and no. Certainly, if funds had been available sooner the losses would have been much less. Clearly, St. Paul would not have lost over 50,000 trees in the one year of 1977, and the financial cost associated with that loss was not negligible.
The cost of removing mature elms was at least $100 per tree. This does not account for the landscape and property value losses that accompanied those removals. Large shade trees can add thousands of dollars to a property's value.
If we very conservatively estimate cost of removal at $100 per tree, (well below the average for elm removal), the cost for removal alone is $5 million. And this does not account for the landscape and property value losses that accompanied the removal of those mature and majestic trees. Some large shade trees have been determined by courts to be worth as much as $10,000, but even if each elm lost is valued by the property owner at only $200, this means another $10 million loss in St. Paul alone.
If action had started no later than 1970, the rate of losses occurring in Minnesota communities could have been slowed dramatically. The accumulated losses sustained by 1980 might have been stretched into the 21st century. By then, in many cases elms would have been removed for other reasons because they were overmature and hazardous rather than because they were victims of the Dutch elm disease epidemic.
On the plus side, if the legislature had not finally acted when it did or had not provided the high level of funding, (an aggregate amount of almost $56 million over several biennium) the American elm would have been essentially eliminated from Minnesota. The only surviving mature elms would have been those in the few cities which maintained their own control programs. It is doubtful that more than a few would have made much effort to deal with Dutch elm disease without the backing provided by the states resources.
This does not mean that the American elm would have disappeared completely, only that we would have lost over 90 percent of our elms of any appreciable size. Elms are prolific seed producers and are aggressive as seedlings and young trees (a fact that most people who have had to weed elm seedlings and saplings from gardens are well aware of). One actual count of 48 elm seedlings in a one foot diameter area around a newly planted street tree is a typical example.
The American elm or its close relative, the slippery or red elm, will definitely survive. Unfortunately, the large beautiful elms that were so important to our streets, parks, and yards are only here today because of the positive actions taken by our legislature in the allocation of funds for the creation of control programs.
From the viewpoint of a forest pathologist, one other positive accomplishment has resulted from Dutch elm disease. In Minnesota, there is now an increased knowledge of trees and tree problems. Before the days of Dutch elm disease there were very few people qualified to manage trees in cities and those so assigned had little appreciation and understanding of diseases. Today we have many people who are well informed and highly capable of dealing with tree problems.
On February 2, 1977, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote to Minnesota Congressman Donald Fraser (latlater mayor of Minneapolis) indicating that the Department of Agriculture had not made any Fiscal Year 1977 supplemental funding requests for research on Dutch elm disease. The proposed FY 1978 Dutch elm disease research budget request was proposed at $1,310,400. There were no control funds proposed for the FY 1978 budget. The assistant secretarys letter also estimated that there were 32,610,000 elms remaining in states where the disease had been reported. A reasonable assumption is that this must refer only to elms in cities, as there were about 140 million elms in Minnesota alone prior to Dutch elm disease reaching this state.
Early in 1977, Representative Fraser is known to have reported on Minnesotas Dutch elm disease control efforts to the House of Representatives. He was encouraging the federal government to recognize and do something about the problem. Also at about that time, the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted a report to the President and the United States Congress on the problem of Dutch elm disease.
These and other pressures led Congress to grant the U.S. Forest Service $2.5 million in General Forestry Assistance funds for Dutch elm disease special projects. The objective set for these projects was to provide, on a nation wide basis, educational programs and information to communities, municipal governments, landowners, and individual homeowners. That information was to cover the history of Dutch elm disease, its incidence and severity, and ways to both control Dutch elm disease and utilize elm trees infected and killed by the disease.
Utilization of removed elm wood was one objective of early federally funded projects. One project attempted to use the wood, ground up and shaped into fuel pellets, as an alternative fuel for some stoves and boilers.
A second objective of the new federal program was to establish and maintain demonstration projects in selected areas of the United States to show the application and results of effective Dutch elm disease control and elm tree utilization programs. The program, which was to last five years, began operation in early 1978, though programs were not actually established and functioning until the summer of that year.
It was helpful to have the increase in educational programs; the federal funds were responsible for upgrading the knowledge that people had of the disease. The utilization program, however, was of questionable value. Large sums of money were invested in promotions which appeared to have had little effect on the course of Dutch elm disease.
In the first year in Minnesota, $92,500 of federal funds were spent on a densification project at the Stillwater prison. This was to produce fuel from elm debris for producing energy at the prison. While there are no reports of whether or not this project succeeded, it certainly was of no value in actually controlling Dutch elm disease, and probably was of little value to the state prison.
These types of projects were unfortunately funded, by those in control of the funds, against the advice of an ad hoc steering committee. However, they learned from those mistakes and after the first year the money for utilization went to the demonstration communities for the purchase of debarkers and chippers which helped to eliminate bark beetle habitats.
Five states received federal funds and each organized its demonstration projects differently. Most of Minnesotas effort and federal program funds went into the management of Dutch elm disease in six cities selected to demonstrate that we did know how to reduce losses to Dutch elm disease. The cities selected represented different regions and different levels of incidence of Dutch elm disease. Two cities were selected from each of three regions. More replication would have been desirable, but it was necessary to concentrate the funds to be certain that the programs for demonstrating reduction in Dutch elm disease would have adequate support.
Twelve other Minnesota cities, four from each region, were selected as controls to be compared with the six cities where supposedly the best designed programs were in place. No added effort was to be put into these reference cities over and above what they would have done anyway. As much as possible each reference city was comparable to one of the demonstration cities in size, location, and incidence of Dutch elm disease (Table 5). This was not as well replicated an experiment as would have been desirable, however the amount of funds available limited what could be attempted.
|City, County||Total Elms|| % Losses in each year |
|(D) Fergus Falls, Ottertail County||16,500||.24||0.82||0.71||1.54||0.85|
|Alexandria, Douglas County||6,500||1.40||1.35||1.58|
|Elbow Lake, Grant County||1,525||4.07||1.18||1.05|
|(D) Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine County||10,775||1.11||3.14||2.48||2.99||2.37|
|Ortonville, Big Stone County||14,158||.78||.35||1.05|
|Redwood Falls, Redwood County||16,500||2.94|||||
|(D) Hutchinson, McLeod County||14,011||.88||9.87||7.51||6.89||9.07|
|Glencoe, McLeod County||8,605||1.93||1.24||1.65|
|Olivia, Renville County||1,542||||5.12||5.38|
|(D) Litchfield, Meeker County||8,300||1.17||3.79||3.42||3.51||5.11|
|Hector, Renville County||920||||5.98||5.98|
|Renville, Renville County||1,802||1.66||2.72||3.50|
|(D) Little Falls, Morrison County||7,947||4.88||5.57||4.49||3.33||4.59|
|Princeton, Mille Lacs County||3,873||5.27||3.00||2.12|
|Cambridge, Isanti County||1,562||9.92||5.25||4.48|
|(D) Wadena, Wadena County||5,930||0.08||1.92||1.54||2.16||2.36|
|Sauk Centre, Stearns County||4,850||1.92||0||1.75|
|Staples, Todd County||1,050||.95||3.43||1.52|
The demonstration cities, with all their federal funds and considerable advisory assistance, did not fare much better than the reference cities which only had state funds. From the results of these projects it was possible to conclude that the activities enabled by the availability of state funds were by themselves effective in reducing the elm losses. Another reasonable conclusion was that if a city had no program at all, their losses would have been much higher than in these 18 cities.
The demonstration just was not convincing. Hutchinson had substantial losses even with the additional federal assistance. The degree of success in Hutchinson might have been determined more by the Dutch elm disease situation prior to 1977 than by any other factor. If the beetle population was high in previous years, it would take a year or more to bring losses down appreciably. There might also have been additional factors influencing the different patterns of loss.
The year 1977 was favorable for high losses of elm trees if a city had a substantial loss the previous year; a loss in the vicinity of 3 percent of their original population of elms. By contrast, because Fergus Falls had losses amounting to only .37 percent of their original population in 1977, it is not surprising that their losses were low in subsequent years. These losses were low largely because they are in the northern part of the state and the fungus had not reached there until 1970. Elbow Lake, though not in the federal program, reduced their losses from over 4 percent in 1978 to about 1 percent in subsequent years.
Little Falls, even with federal help, continued to lose elm trees between 3.33 percent and 5.57 percent per year. Both Princeton and Cambridge, selected as references to Little Falls, showed improvement from 5.27 to 2.12 percent and 9.92 to 4.48 percent respectively during the same period of time.
Obviously factors other than the federal assistance program determined what happened. The story might have been different if the 12 reference cities had received no state support for their Dutch elm disease programs, but the fact that a city was not in the state program did not mean that they did not have a good program. Duluth did not participate in the grant-in-aid program and yet was able to maintain minimum losses. Of their population of 37,560 elms in 1977 they lost .46, 3.52, .46 and 1.20 percent of their elms through 1980. Obviously they managed well without state support.
The utilization portion of the federally-supported project had a 1979 plan which called for $126,837 for a portable debarker, a log splitter, two trucks, a front-end loader, two operators, and other miscellaneous items. Actual expenditures reached $139,628. The use of this equipment resulted in more efficient disposal of elm and put it into a useful form, firewood. Although there were frequent and lengthy discussions of how to better use the elm (for veneer logs, railroad ties, fencing, interior panelling, skateboards, etc.) and some research showed that elm could be used effectively for sound barriers and panelling, none of these alternative uses materialized.
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