EMPIRE, Mich. (AP) - The National Park Service wants to stay ahead of beech bark disease in northern Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the premier outdoor attractions in the state.
Officials hope to create a more aggressive tree take-down and restoration policy, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. The National Park Service is seeking public input on a hazard tree management plan, and comments are being accepted until Feb. 15.
"We want to make sure we keep the public safe and we have tools in our toolbox to take the actions we need to take quickly and decisively," said Kevin Skerl, the Chief of Natural Resources at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The plan is in its exploratory phase and would need to pass an environmental assessment and other hurdles before it could be implemented.
Beech bark disease happens in two stages. It begins with tiny scale insects that feed on sap in the tree's thin bark. The scale injures the beeches, making them vulnerable to a fungus.
The lakeshore's ash trees also are being hit by the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle. And there's concern that the park's oak trees, while currently healthy, could eventually fall victim to oak wilt, a fungal disease that's been reported in Benzie County.
There are early signs of beech bark disease at the lakeshore, and beech and ash trees are integral parts of the area's forests.
A lot of wildlife depends on high canopy trees, said NPS biologist Ken Hiser, who came to Sleeping Bear Dunes six months ago to work on the new plan. The diseases "are going to change things in ways you might not notice, but there's a big change."
The plan would prioritize only certain areas for tree removal, Skerl said, such as campgrounds and heavily trafficked trails.