Spruce Tree Disease & Beach Grooming

  • A seedling with dead terminal buds due to a Phomopsis canker on the main stem below the dying buds. (Photo courtesy of MSU Extension)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The landscape of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula has been changing over the
decades. Some of the changes are intentional… some accidental…and some
are simply a mystery. Rina Miller reports:

In the sixties and seventies … Dutch elm disease left tree-lined streets

These last few years saw the Emerald Ash borer leave its trail of
destruction across the state. And now Michigan’s spruce and pine trees are in decline.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture and forestry at
Michigan State University.

He says one culprit is called Phomopsis. It’s a fungus that has been around for
a long time. It used to affect just seedlings and smaller trees. But now
it’s killing larger trees, too. And scientists don’t know why.

“Is this an environmental set of conditions? Is there something going on
with the pathogen itself? So there’s really lots more questions than
answers at this point, other than we’re seeing a lot of trees starting to

Cregg says the Phomopsis fungus is primarily affecting blue, white and
Norway spruce used for landscaping. Those trees are not native to Michigan.

He says it progressively kills branches…and eventually the whole tree.

Cregg says a couple of things can be done. He says if you spot dead branches, you should prune them … and get rid of lower limbs to help with air circulation.

He also says if you’re planting spruce trees … don’t group them closely
together, because that makes them more vulnerable to fungus.

And if you’re not sure what’s going on with your tree…call an expert.

“So if you can get a sample into our diagnostics lab, or another tree care
provider that knows what they’re looking at. If it can be identified as
Phomopsis, then there is a possibility of treating with a fungicide.”

You might also be noticing branch dieback on pine trees along roadways and
in state forests. Cregg says any number of things could be causing that…
including a type of blight or insects… or maybe just normal variations in
weather affecting tree growth. They just don’t know yet.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rina Miller.

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This is the Environment Report.

Let’s say you own a beach house. You might want to pull out some plants
or mow them or smooth out the sand to make it look nice.

At the moment, if you want to do any of these things, you need a permit
from both the state and federal government.

Maggie Cox is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She
says her department has to make sure everyone can walk on the beaches. And
she says sensitive wetlands need to be protected.

“Your property line is down to the water’s edge – but the state also
holds in trust for the public the land up to ordinary high water mark.”

Last week, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the
state permit for beach maintenance.

Several environmental groups are opposed to that.

The DEQ’s Maggie Cox says her agency will still have oversight of beach
maintenance in wetland areas.

“In areas that are mostly sand or mostly rock, you no longer have to get
a permit from the department. But in areas that are wet or coastal
wetlands, made up mostly of bulrush or other vegetation, you’re going to
have to still come to the department and the Army Corps for a permit.”

But the Army Corps does not regulate mowing on beach areas. So if the state permit requirement goes away, property owners would be able to mow plants on sandy beach areas without any oversight. Environmental groups say that’s a problem.

But Ernie Krygier disagrees. He’s the president of Save Our Shoreline. That’s a group of property owners that wants to preserve the right to groom beaches.

“We’re not about people going out into the lake with bulldozers. In
fact the DEQ still does have the ability to police the shoreline. If some
goofball wants to take a fence down to the water’s edge to stop people
from walking down the beach, they have the ability to come in and make him
remove it.”

Krygier says his biggest concern is an invasive plant called phragmites that he wants to be able to remove from his beachfront property.

The legislation now moves to the state House.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.