Orange paint marked dozens of trees to be removed. The paint on the outside indicated the disease within.
Laminated root rot has been discovered in a 2-acre forest surrounded by Grandview Street, Stinson Avenue and Pioneer Way.
Mike Paul, one of three property owners, said removing the trees is a top priority because those with the disease could fall at any moment.
They are removing the trees for safety reasons, not to develop, Paul said.
“Currently, we are not in a development process,” he said. “We are just doing our due diligence (with the tree removal).”
The rot works from the bottom of the tree and goes up. It separates the tight rings of the trunk.
“Just like the leaves of a book,” Arborist Hugh Doran said.
Doran is an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist. He reviewed the stand of trees and sent samples to the Washington State University extension campus in Puyallup for testing.
This week, tests confirmed the presence of laminated root rot in the Douglas firs. Removal began about two weeks ago, Paul said.
Confirmation from the lab is important, Gig Harbor planner Kristin Moerler said, because root rot often doesn’t visually present itself until the tree is very sick.
“It can be hard to see it until you know it’s in your soils,” she said. “A tree can be infected before it starts showing those visual elements.”
The trees are susceptible to wind-throw and root failure, Doran wrote in a report to the city.
Trees infected with laminated root rot have a spongy center, meaning the trunk doesn’t support the tree’s weight. It can make it difficult to control as it’s being removed, Moerler said, because the top is so heavy and the cutter can’t determine which way it will topple.
That makes the area dangerous to visitors.
Paul said the logger assigned to fell the trees was nearly hit about two weeks ago when they were cutting down three Douglas firs. A seemingly healthy tree simply squashed in on itself and fell, Paul said.
He urged people to stay out of the site as the trees are removed.
“It’s really, really, really dangerous,” Paul said. “The bottom 10 feet of these trees are just rotten.”
Doran concurred that the removal process is risky.
“One put on a real dramatic show, and I’m sure there were others,” he said. “You can’t control your process when the wood is disintegrating.”
The rot also means part of the wood isn’t salvageable. Doran said the logger had to go up six feet on a tree before they found usable timber, or “clean wood.”
Doran said the stand is in an area with at-risk properties. A falling tree could land in traffic, on a business or on a passerby. The Gig Harbor Kindercare, at 3811 Grandview St., is a “red flag,” he said.
“You can’t dance around it,” he said of the infected trees. “You’ve got to protect the public. You’ve got to protect the workers.”
Moerler, assigned to the project, is sorry to see tree loss.
“Trees are an important aesthetic,” she said. “It’s an important part of the fabric of the community. It’s hard to see them go.”
The city does have rules about vegetation on properties in order to prevent clearcutting, but “root rot causes a whole different scenario,” Moerler said.
Compacted soils, such as roads and driveways, prevent the spread of the disease, Moerler said. The root rot mainly is confined to the soil.
In Doran’s report, the Douglas firs on the site are considered “unsafe for retention.” He said that, over time, he’s had to reconcile his love of trees and public safety. Trees infected with root rot look healthy, but they’re rotten inside and present a risk to the public.
Paul is looking at which trees can be maintained. The madronas, which line Grandview, will stay, Moerler said.
In 2010, trees in Kopachuck State Park also were found to have laminated root rot. The park is being revamped as day-use only to eliminate the risk of a camper being crushed by a falling tree.
It’s the Douglas firs that are being cut down at the Gig Harbor plot, but those are the most recognizable tree in the area, Doran said.
Moerler added that, because the disease occurs naturally, it’s possible the forest would balance itself once the disease takes out the trees.
But that’s not the safest option on a busy intersection.
“Disease has a place,” she said. “But living next to (diseased trees) in an urban area doesn’t work.”