By TIM HORAN
Call John Barbur a “tree hugger.” He won’t take offense.
Nobody in this area, and maybe Kansas, knows more about trees than Barbur. Barbur of Abilene was recently award the Community Forester of the Year by the State Forest Service.
The award went to Barbur for the quality of work he does on community forestry, serving on two boards. Again, he may be the only person in Kansas that does that. He is on the community forestry at Fort Riley and is the chairman of the Abilene Tree Board.
Tree boards try to maintain the trees in the urban area.
He said the purpose of the board is to benefit the community that they work and live in.
“Particularly in Abilene, we are interested in beautifying the city with appropriate trees so that people can enjoy them,” he said. “It’s something that just greens up and makes the area beautiful.”
He said the two boards are a little different.
“At Fort Riley, it’s a little different than Abilene. All of the property is owned by the government,” Barbur said. “In Abilene, the government and the tree board only manage the easement areas, parks and other government property. On Fort Riley, we basically manage all of the area where we have trees and buildings.”
Those boards identify the trees and where they are located.
“We identify what their condition and needs are,” he said. “Beyond that, we look at what maintenance needs to be done on them. In some cases, trees just for health reasons need to be pruned or some type of work done on them. We also look at them as a risk to people or hazard. Is there a dead limb that’s cracked that could either fall on property or fall on a person? So when we identify those, we try to mitigate that. In some cases we have to remove a tree.”
When questioned about tree diseases, he discussed two that are prevalent in Kansas; those that were killing off elm trees and those that are destroying Scotch Pines.
“The American Elms have been dying for several years because of Dutch Elm Disease,” he said. “It’s a fungus that was brought in from Europe. It’s transmitted by Elm Bark Beatles. As they feed on Elm trees, they carry that disease which is a fungus. They carry it by little fungus spores on their bodies, from tree to tree.”
Once that fungus gets into the tree it plugs up the vessels that supply the water and nutrients that come up from the roots to the top of tree where the leaves are. When it seals those off, the tree dies because it can’t get nutrients, he said.
He said there are preventive measures.
“If the tree gets it, there is not much you can do,” Barbur said. “You can inject some specific fungicides. If there a few spores that get in, it will prevent it from really taking hold.”
He said the process is expensive and must be repeated every three to four years.
“Some of those nice big Elm trees, there are people that do that,” he said. “If it is a really nice, important tree to a yard, people are willing to do it.”
Pine Wilt nematode is affecting Scotch Pine trees in a similar manner.
“It’s like a microscopic larvae that gets into the conducting tissue where the nutrients in the water come up through the tree,” he said. “It plugs them up and basically kills trees.”
He said these diseases often work together with insects. As the Pine Sawyer Beatle moves from an infected tree to a tree that is not infected and he feeds on that tree, he has these nematodes that he has in his mouth. As he starts chewing on these needles, that nematode get into that tree.”
He said that once the Scotch Pines die off, the Pine Sawyer Beatle will move to other pine trees.
“The Pine Sawyer Beatle looks at the Scotch Pine like steak,” he said. “I love Scotch Pine and I am going to find those first. The thing is, as you start getting fewer and fewer Scotch Pines they might jump over, as an example, to Austrian Pine. It’s like the insects say, ‘I guess I can’t have steak anymore so I guess I’ll have hamburger.”
Barbur graduated with a degree in forestry in 1975 and has been working in forestry ever since.