Beech Bark Disease Project Proposed on Hiawatha National Forest

Release Date: Nov 6, 2009  

The Hiawatha National Forest lies near the northwestern edge of the range of American beech. Unfortunately, the American beech is currently being infected by a deadly disease known as beech bark disease (BBD), which was introduced from Europe into Nova Scotia around 1890 and has since been spreading west and south following the range of beech.

In 2000, BBD was discovered in Michigan and is now documented in several counties of both the Upper  and Lower Peninsulas, including areas of the Hiawatha National Forest.

The disease results from an interaction between two organisms. The beech scale, a non-native insect, makes puncture wounds through the bark which allow it to feed. Then these puncture wounds provide  an entrance for fungal species that cause bark cankers. The canker fungus kills the outer and inner bark. Trees infested with scale and/or infected with bark canker are often also attacked by other insects or diseases, which further hasten tree mortality.

Experience in eastern states over the last 100 years shows about half of the original stocking of beech trees with diameters of 10 inches or larger at breast height (10 inch dbh) can be expected to die in the first wave of BBD infection. Many of the trees that survive the initial wave of infection will eventually die of BBD or related secondary attacks by other insects or diseases. Beech trees located in or near campgrounds, trails or roads present a hazard to visitors. Even if these trees are still alive, they are subject to beech snap, a sudden failure most common in high winds.

What does this loss of the American beech mean to our forests? While there are no pure American beech stands on the Hiawatha National Forest, many hardwood stands include a significant component of beech -- 20% or greater. The primary value of beech is the mast and habitat it provides for wildlife and the unique visual diversity it provides. Mast is any fruit or nut utilized as a food source by various wildlife species. Beech is a major source of mast for wildlife on the Hiawatha. Beech is often used as nesting trees for raptors and ravens. Wood from beech trees is used by industry for railroads ties, pallet stock and pulpwood for paper.

These impacts of BBD are important to Hiawatha National Forest as it plans management activity in its northern hardwood stands.If the Forest does nothing to reduce the impacts of BBD, the disease may eliminate beech as a significant component of the Hiawatha National Forest ecosystem. Some management steps are available to mitigate the disease's impacts and retain beech as a component of the Forest, though with reduced numbers.

In hopes of minimizing the impacts of BBD, the Hiawatha National Forest is proposing treatments of stands on the Munising and Rapid River/Manistique Ranger Districts. The proposed project includes stand treatments for uneven-aged management with follow-up spot planting of white pine, hemlock, northern red oak or other native tree species and associated site preparation. Most of the stands proposed for treatment already have the beech scale present.

The proposed project would harvest approximately 12,310 acres in 168 stands in northern hardwoods with the objective of removing beech susceptible to BBD, improving age class diversity, and adding species diversity to promote regeneration of mast producing hardwood species. The treatments will encourage retention of beech trees that appear either resistant or partially-resistant to BBD. The proposal includes selective harvest of other species of trees to promote growth and regeneration of mast producing species such as black cherry, and to create quality saw logs for future harvest.

Road work is proposed to prepare existing roads for safe use by heavy truck traffic. New roads, temporary roads, and landings would be needed to provide access to some stands. Some existing roads in the project area are not needed or are causing resource damage and would be obliterated. Illegal OHV trails throughout the project area and need to be closed to discourage use and reduce resource damage.

For more information about this project, contact Tom Desy or Mary Maercklein, Hiawatha National Forest, 8181 US 2, Rapid River, MI 49878;(906) 474-6442 . Project information is posted on the Hiawatha National Forest website: or Comments on this proposed project will be most useful if received by December 4, 2009.