Pierce County to cut down hundreds of century-old trees

TACOMA --Pierce County parks might soon seem a little brighter.

That's not necessarily a good thing.

A recent sampling of 1,500 trees in Pierce County's Spanaway Park found that 250 had various forms of tree-decaying diseases. The sickened trees need to come out, says Pierce County Parks and Recreation's Jess Stone.

"It's certainly a lot of trees," Stone said.

The 250 Douglas fir trees have red ring and Schweinitzee fungi, two forms of decay that kill the trees from the inside. The decay eventually works through the tree causing it to die. The wood is so damaged, it can't even be used in mills, Stone says.

This creates a hazard for visitors at the park in the 14000 block of Bresemann Boulevard.

All of the trees coming down are between 100-120 years old, Stone said. And while it's not unusual to see trees of this age encountering some kind of fungi, the problem is amplified by the park's lack of tree diversity and its heavy use.

"In an actively used site, you're going to see more active infections," Stone said, noting trees in a forest have more protection around their roots.

Sixty-eight of the diseased trees have already been removed. Stone says they'll space removal out, since 250 trees out of the park at a single time would drastically change the scenery.  Around 50 more will be removed next year, and 50the year after that. The removal will continue until all the damaged trees are gone.

Spanaway Park isn't the only park facing a tree fungus problem. Trees at Dawson Playfield and Chambers Creek Regional Park will need to come down, though the exact number is not currently known.

Stone suggests the hot summer definitely didn't help the trees. Typically, she says, trees build natural responses against disease in the spring and the summer. But long, dry months mean trees are in survival mode.

As climate change continues, Stone said, disease and decay can become more prevalent.

"These trees are not going to be able to respond as well as they could under normal climate conditions," Stone said. "Under normal, wetter conditions they really build up that new wood."

Pierce County Parks and Recreation says the trees removed from Spanaway will be replaced with more drought resistant trees.