A rare flatwoods forest on Belle Isle is in danger due to Oak Wilt, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources along with the Belle Isle Conservancy is undertaking a four-phase project to control the fungus.
A helicopter is going to be used to transport felled logs out of a sensitive habitat area at Belle Isle Park. This measure is being done to prevent damage caused by heavy equipment to the rare forest. The helicopter will transport felled logs to a staging area on the island.
The work is expected to take place the week of March 12 and take two days.
For this period, all access to the forested end of the island, east of Vista Lane, will be closed. The closure will include roads, hiking trails, pathways and facilities and will affect day-use activities. The closures will be marked.
Daily Detroit reached out to get exact dates but they aren’t available because there will be some flexibility due to wind conditions, but could start as as early as Saturday ahead of the work.
“The public should plan on closures of some or all of the roads on the east end of the island as soon as Saturday. Closures may also occur throughout the week,” said Heidi M. Frei, Natural Resources Steward, SW Michigan. “Facilities on the west end, such as the Dossin Museum, Conservatory and Aquarium, will not be impacted.”
Oak wilt has already killed 112 trees, may have been present for many years
In fall 2016, a survey was conducted that revealed that oak wilt may have killed as many as 112 trees in a rare flatwoods forest near the center of the island.
DNR officials quickly put together a plan to contain and manage the disease in order to protect the historic forest and some of the state’s last remaining Shumard’s oaks.
According to a statement from the DNR, it was determined that oak wilt may have been present for many years.
Oak wilt is a fungus that can spread from tree to tree through underground root connections, or grafts. It also can spread when diseased trees develop fungal mats.
During the growing season, the sweet-smelling fungus attracts sap-feeding beetles that carry fungal spores to other wounded trees in much the same way that bees transport pollen.
In late December, crews completed the first of four management phases, which involved severing the roots between infected and healthy trees using a plow outfitted with a special cutting blade.
The second phase, which began this week, will include cutting down and removing dead trees before fungal mats develop and allow the disease to spread. This technique was determined to have the least impact to the surrounding flatwoods forest.
The third phase, according to the DNR, is planned to take place this spring and will involve approximately 150 trees in or near areas of known oak wilt, including many of the island’s Shumard’s oaks, being injected with a fungistat that may prevent infection.
The final phase will begin in late August and includes monitoring infected trees throughout the year, as early detection means a better chance to control the fungus.