Trees are the most valuable commodity found in a state park. Not only do they provide the aesthetic quality desired by the campers and nature lovers who frequent the park, they provide shelter and food for many for the many woodland creatures that live there. Often taken for granted, they quietly go about their daily business of growing ever so slowly. That is–until something goes wrong.
It’s enough to make any park manager a little apprehensive–when healthy trees in his custody begin a premature demise. Kathio State Park, near Onamia, has been subject to a loss of trees this summer, and although Park Manager Ken Anderson says it raises some concern, the damage thus far really isn’t significant in terms of the overall tree population of the park.
The culprits, if you can honestly call them that, are the porcupine and the two-line chestnut borer, who feed on trees, but the really antagonist is the drought that has continued to linger in Minnesota this year. During years with normal moisture, a tree’s defense system is capable of protecting it from boring insects and successfully “patching up” the damage incurred from bark-peeling porcupines. They do this by emitting pitch to drown insects and repair the damage done by porcupines.
During extend periods with little rainfall, however, trees’ defenses are weakened, making them susceptible to these offenders, and often they died as a result. “It’s like when you are feeling weak,” explained the park manager. “You are more susceptible to catching a cold.” This is what is happening to a portion of the trees in Kathio–namely, some Norway pine and maple, which are being attacked by porcupines, and red oak, which are succumbing to the boring beetles.
“The biggest problem this year has been the loss of red oaks,” said Anderson. “We’ve lost about 200 of the trees in our camping areas.” Anderson noted that the presence of dead and dying oaks in areas of the park that are frequented by their guests can pose safety problems they must deal with.
Kathio crews are currently busy removing those trees that have been diagnosed as dead or dying so that they will not pose a threat to visitors in the park. Anderson said that if the damage would have occurred in a less-used portion of the park, they would have left them to fall on their own.
“It was evident last spring that we had a bit of a porcupine problem in the park,” Anderson said. “But I wouldn’t say that it’s substantial if you look at the overall picture.” Anderson adds that although a number of maples and Norway pines in the park have been attacked by the animals, the number is really a trivial amount.
“So I lose 10 percent of the pines in an area,” said Anderson. “In one sense, it’s somewhat tragic. In another sense, it’s meaningless.” He added that the porcupine’s role in nature is to help thin strands of trees that are too thick.
“It’s a little arrogant on our part to be overly concerned about a little porcupine damage, considering we nearly exterminated the white pine through logging some years ago,” Anderson said.