UW News

July 8, 2004

Campus trees get Dutch Elm inoculation: New system to help grounds maintenance staffers monitor trees’ health

You might have seen someone walking around campus over the last few weeks using a large aluminum gun-like apparatus to poke the elm trees in front of Denny or in the Sylvan Garden.

Michael Andreu, a pest management coordinator for the UW, inoculates a tree against Dutch Elm disease.

College of Forest Resources students Ian Bishop and Sako Hirata map the location of cherry trees on the Quad with the help of four devices mounted on a tripod. A global positioning system communicates with satellites to locate positions on earth, a laser device measures the distance from a tree to their location, an electronic compass finds the direction to the tree and a data recorder records and stores the information.

That would be Michael Andreu, a doctoral student with the College of Forest Resources, who works with the Grounds Maintenance Department as the Integrated Pest Management Coordinator. He has been “inoculating” the campus elm trees to protect them from Dutch Elm disease.

Dutch Elm disease, Andreu says, has been in the United States since 1930 and is found now in most states except the desert Southwest. The disease is caused by a fungus and is spread by the elm bark beetle or through grafted roots between infected trees. Once the tree is infected, the DED fungus grows and clogs its vascular system.  Because of this clogging, water can’t move through the vessels and wilting and ultimately death will occur. 

“We’re lucky because right now we don’t have any cases of DED on campus, although it’s present in other parts of Seattle,” Andreu says. “We’re injecting the trees with a less virulent form of this fungus. What happens is that the trees will build a response to the fungus and if they are infested with DED they will be prepared with a defense mechanism to the disease.”

However, Andreu cautions that, like the flu shots humans get, the injection doesn’t provide 100 percent protection. That means that UW grounds maintenance staffers need to have a good monitoring system to watch for signs and symptoms in the trees so that they can prevent the disease from spreading to all of the campus elm trees. 

To facilitate monitoring for DED and other pest problems in the trees, the UW Grounds Maintenance Department in partnership with the College of Forest Resources, the Center for Urban Horticulture and the Washington Park Arboretum are developing a plan to create a geo-spatial database of the trees managed by the UW. 

“This project will revolutionize how we manage our urban forest,” Andreu says.  “It will allow us to maintain long term management data and health information about each individual tree. This will be useful not only for maintaining healthy tree populations but also for future projections of where new trees need to be planted and what species. It will take a lot of the guesswork out of the planning process.”

He added that the database will provide many opportunities for educating students as well as the general public about the value of the campus’ diverse urban forest. 

In fact, two successful pilot studies already have been completed by undergraduate students from the College of Forest Resources. The first project, carried out by Dawn Mauer, mapped the trees in the grove north of Anderson Hall, while the second project, completed by Ian Bishop and Sako Hirata, mapped the cherry trees throughout campus. (See http://sde.gis.washington.edu/arcims/andreu_cherry/viewer.htm.)

The projects used what Andreu calls state of the art technology (Geographic Position Systems and lasers) to locate the campus trees and computer software (Geographic Information Systems) to link maps to a database of information about the trees.

“Using technologies such as these is the future of sustainable forest management — both urban and wildland — so these projects give UW students a real advantage in the professional sector,” Andreu says.