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St. Cloud and Minneapolis, Minn. — It's been a bad summer for elm trees in Minnesota. Dutch elm disease has made a comeback. The fungus is spread by beetles and through the roots. It's been an ongoing affliction for trees across the region since big outbreaks in the 1970s and '80s killed thousands of the stately American elms.
After two dry summers stressed the region's trees, the disease has flared up again.
Dan Ulenkott is working hard to try and reduce the number of trees that are lost in Minneapolis. Ulenkott is a tree inspector with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.
If you see an elm in south Minneapolis painted with an orange circle and the letter A, that's a tree that Dan has diagnosed as having Dutch elm disease. He is working long hours this summer identifying trees with the disease, so they can be removed before spreading it to other trees.
Dana Hendrickson is another tree inspector, who was hired this summer to help out with the extra work caused by the Dutch elm problem. On a recent day, the two of them spent time examining trees along Minnehaha Creek.
Hendrickson walks along a trail studying the branches and leaves of various trees. The Dutch elm disease fungus infects the vascular, or water conducting system of the tree. The infection prevents water movement to the crown of the tree. Hendrickson is looking for telltale signs of wilting leaves and branches.
When he comes across a tree with Dutch elm symptoms, he peels back a small portion of bark. A dark stain under the bark is a sure sign that a tree is infected. Hendrickson gets out his can of orange spray paint and marks the tree for removal.
Dan Ulenkott says by the time the summer is over, Minneapolis will have lost more trees than it has in a long time.
A similar situation exists in communities around the state. Last year in St. Cloud, for example, 120 sick elms were cut down. By the end of this summer, that number will almost be tripled.
One of the trees cut down this week caught the eye of many people. The tree, on 9th Ave. N., in St. Cloud, was the biggest in the neighborhood. It was at least twice as tall as the three-story house it shaded -- where Madeline Houston lives. Nobody knows it's age for sure, but the city forester estimates 80 or 90 years.
A few weeks ago, it got the mark -- a blaze orange X. Madeline Houston watched as her tree was cut down this week. It took the workers five hours to finish the job. Houston talked with MPR's Tim Post about how the life of the tree, and its death, parallels her life. (Watch the multimedia slideshow.)