When dead trees attack
Falling trees a danger on Flanders roadways
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No one was injured, as drivers managed to halt before colliding with the downed tree and pole.
The woods along Flanders Road are filled with dead trees, and transportation and environmental officials worry that motorists may not be as fortunate in the future when trees collapse. The Pine Barrens Commission estimates that 14,000 acres of the 100,000-acre Central Pine Barrens region, which covers parts of Southampton, Riverhead and Brookhaven, are covered with dead trees.
"There's something wrong with the trees and its extensive," said Eileen Peters, a spokeswoman for the Sate Department of Transportation. "From our standpoint, we have started to work with ... the county parks and others to have a plan for addressing this problem, and we've begun to remove the ones on the right of way that pose an imminent danger."
A number of trees have already fallen along Flanders Road, according to Barbara Swislosky, vice president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.
The extent of the dead trees was discovered during a flyover conducted by Cornell Coorperative Extension entomologist Dan Gilrein with the DEC. It didn't take into account the Pine Barrens on the North and South Forks, so there are likely to be even more dead trees, according to Alexis Alvey, the nursery and landscape specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County.
Cornell became aware of the oak mortality last year when Mr. Gilrein did the flyover, Ms. Alvey said. Most of the dead oaks are in Flanders, Northampton, Calverton, Manorville and Westhampton, she said.
Cornell believes multiple factors have contributed to the oak die-off.
One was a severe drought in the summer of 2005 that was followed that October by a very wet month, Ms. Alvey said.
"This likely predisposed the trees to injury," she said.
The injury was compounded by gypsy moths and inchworms, which ate the leaves on the already weakened trees. The third factor in the die-off came because the weakened trees were more susceptible to root rot disease and to other insect pests, including the two-line chestnut borer, a beetle-like insect that attacks weakened oaks, Ms. Alvey said.
The trees likely started perishing in 2005, and it took until about a year ago to notice, she said.
"Last year, it was becoming very apparent that there were a lot of dead trees," she said.
The bulk of the dead trees are oaks: the Pine Barrens comprise mostly oaks and pines, and pine trees are less susceptible to drought and pests, Ms. Alvey said.
Ms. Peters said the DOT maintenance crews routinely patrol state roads to look for trees that might present a hazard, and remove them. She said one tree was removed from Flanders Road last week and another fell on the side of the road.
"The difficulty here is that there are so many dead trees," Ms. Peters said. "It's pretty extensive."
Another difficulty is that the bulk of the trees are on Suffolk County parkland, so while the tree itself might not be in the state road right of way, it could end up in the road if the entire tree were to fall down. The DOT is permitted to remove trees from private property if it presents a threat to motorists, she said.
Ms. Peters said the DOT is working with the county and other agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan for dealing with the problem, but will deal with it "one tree at a time" in the mean time.
"We have a tree crew and they are very, very busy right now," she said.
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