Thursday, April 17, 2014

Russell Boulevard losing many stately old walnut trees

From page A1 | August 18, 2013 | 4 Comments

A work crew cuts down a black walnut tree on Russell Boulevard on Friday. Many of the cities trees are being cut down because they have thousand cankers disease. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Many of the landmark trees that line Russell Boulevard to the west of Davis are being cut, due to a fungus known as thousand cankers disease that is killing black walnut trees across many western states.

“It is sad to see this happen, but it’s really inevitable,” said Eldridge Moores, an emeritus professor in the UC Davis geology department who has lived in a house facing Russell Boulevard since 1975. Moores has long appreciated the mature walnut trees:  not only are they beautiful, they also provided shade for the bike path that leads to town. “And I’ve always looked on them as an insurance policy against errant drivers,” Moores added.

But Moores said that as some of the old walnut trees have become diseased and frail in the last few years, “they’ve started dropping limbs, sometimes 10 inches in diameter. We had one come down just a couple of weeks ago.”

Moores said that some of the remaining uncut trees along Russell may look like walnuts to casual observers, but they are actually ailanthus trees (sometimes known as “Tree of Heaven”) — a species from China planted in this region longs ago, now often regarded as an invasive pest.

Keith McAleer is executive director of Tree Davis, a nonprofit that has planted many trees on Russell (and elsewhere in town) since 1992. McAlleer said that county government informed Tree Davis of plans to cut the old walnut trees, “and we recommended that an arborist assess the health of the trees. The county did hire an arborist, and most of the walnut trees (now being cut) were (already) dead — though walnuts will send up shoots from their roots indefinitely.”

McAleer said that the walnut trees along Russell within city limits “are much better cared for … there are only a handful of dead ones. Tree Davis would like to save these walnuts if possible. They are iconic, many over 120 years old.” He said that mistletoe has been a problem for years, and Tree Davis is assessing whether it is feasible to treat the surviving walnut trees for thousand cankers disease. Tree Davis is also working with neighbors in the Russell Boulevard/Patwin Road area to plant new trees replacing those now being cut — ideally “a more diverse canopy” less susceptible to a particular pest or disease.

Roger and Ann Romani have lived on Russell Boulevard for more than 50 years, in a historic home built in 1887 for Hugh LaRue, an early resident in this area. LaRue owned much of the land fronting Russell between Highway 113 and Cactus Corner (Highway 98 and Russell Boulevard). Ann Romani, a devotee of local history, said that LaRue and his sons planted many of older walnuts — at that time, the state subsidized planting trees alongside country roads, and photographs of Russell Boulevard were featured in state highway publications. Russell Boulevard became part of the Lincoln Highway — the nation’s first transcontinental highway for automobiles, designated in 1913.

Roger Romani, a professor emeritus in the plant sciences department at UCD, said that the walnuts along the county portion of Russell “have not been taken care of very well,” but added “some of the trees (in city limits) are doing exceptionally well.”


Discussion | 4 comments

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  • Barbara LinderholmAugust 18, 2013 - 7:23 am

    Some of the volunteer trees along the Russell bike path are, as noted in the article, the invasive and problematic Ailanthus or "Tree of Heaven"; but some are Albizia or "silk tree", an ornamental tree with pink to white flowers, which can also be somewhat invasive.

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  • Rich RifkinAugust 18, 2013 - 11:51 am

    Saturday morning I noticed a group of men, appeared to be civilians (not the county workers who cut down the trees), loading up the backs of their pick-ups with the large branches that the crews left on the ground. It had seemed to me that--aside from the fact that the cuttings are public property and if those pick-up owners were not authorized, what they were doing was theft--it would have been nice for Yolo County to have kept all of the usable hard-wood for some public purpose in the future. Perhaps it could have been used to make furniture or flooring in a public building. Or perhaps it could have been fashioned into benches. At the very least, I am sure the county could have sold the walnut cuttings for firewood. Perhaps what I witnessed with the men loading their pick-ups was just that. I don't know. But, given that Yolo County gave zero public notice of this work project in advance, it is impossible to know just who these folks were hauling away that wood.

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  • ml1999August 18, 2013 - 4:59 pm

    Couldn't UCD have a nursery for young trees - i.e., when the campus / city have to cut down a few trees, wouldn't it be nice to replant with a 2- or 5-year old tree, and not a little sapling?

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  • Stephen e HaltonAugust 18, 2013 - 7:14 pm


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