Buzzing chainsaws and three wood chippers grinding in tandem created a cacophony in the Glen Oaks neighborhood Monday afternoon.
Sawdust whipped by strong gusts of wind carried the essence of fresh-cut oak, as more than a dozen loggers and contractors used cranes to deftly maneuver logs — some more than a foot thick — between homes in the suburban development. Within two weeks, roughly 100 trees will be reduced to wood chips in order to stem New York’s first recorded outbreak of the oak wilt fungus.
“This is a job you don’t let drag on,” said Lenny Znyewski, a contractor with the New Jersey-based L&W Wood Recycling, which is among the companies hired for the work.
Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered all the red oaks removed within a 150-foot radius of the neighborhood’s seven infected trees. Red oaks can spread the fungus locally via their shared root systems.
However, oak wilt can also be spread throughout a much larger geographic area by the nitidulid beetle, a sap-feeding insect attracted by the fruit-like smell of the fungus. Once the beetles become active in the spring, the spread of the fungus would be much more difficult to contain.
First identified in 1944, the fungus has decimated oak populations and caused an economic hardship for the timbering industry in the Central and Midwestern states. Pennsylvania was the closest state reporting cases of oak wilt prior to its identification in Glen Oaks.
“You have to move quickly when you find it,” said State Forester Robert Davies.
The eradication of oak wilt in Glenville is among the largest of such projects undertaken by the DEC in upstate New York. Funding for the $190,000 eradication was approved only two weeks ago, after agency officials stressed its significance.
All of the cut timbers were ordered chipped on-site, which will dry out residual sap and prevent the fungus from spreading. The resulting wood chips will be hauled off-site in trailers and burned for energy at a biomass plant.
Workers were either hoisted to the top of the trees — most more than 70 feet tall — via crane or climbed them using harnesses. Once the tree was lashed to the crane, workers on the ground sawed through the oak’s base so that it could then be maneuvered into a nearby chipper.
Larger trees were pruned of their limbs and removed in a similar fashion. The most enormous timbers were set aside until a larger chipper could arrive.
State officials will monitor Glen Oaks for at least the next three years. Stumps from the removed trees were tagged, logged with a GPS system and will be treated with an herbicide to kill the remaining root systems.
Some oaks were given a last-minute reprieve by the DEC. Glen Oaks residents Terry Phillips and Frank Strauss were able to persuade the agency to preserve several mature red oaks under the condition that each homeowner digs 4-foot-deep trenches. Digging the trenches cuts the tree roots that are intertwined, blocking the spread of the fungus.
The trenches will be paid for by the two homeowners, who also agreed to allow the DEC to periodically monitor the trees. They also agreed to pay for the removal of the trees, if they contract the fungus at a later date.
Phillips didn’t mind the stringent terms of the agreement. He was pleased the agency provided him a chance to save a pair of century-old trees amid a project that could protect the future of the red oak in New York.
“This is a big deal,” he said of the project. “This is being done to protect the red oaks through the state of New York.”