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Save Elizabethton’s Christmas tree

Johnson City Press • Oct 17, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Mother Nature isn’t always kind, and her threats don’t always come in the form of a hurricane, an earthquake, a forest fire or other disaster.

Sometimes she attacks with tiny soldiers. In this case, she has deployed the balsam woolly adelgid into Elizabethton, where the bug has infested the 78-foot Fraser fir tree at the eastern end of Elk Avenue.

The critter is a killer. The balsam woolly adelgid is responsible for major damage to or the deaths of most mature true fir trees in the wild, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In some places, firs slowly are being eliminated from the ecosystem, while adelgid populations continue to spread to previously uninfested areas.

Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina are among the areas in the U.S. most affected.

We can’t blame Mother Nature entirely for the balsam woolly adelgid’s effects in North America. Humans brought the insect here around 1900 through infested nursery stock from Europe, where the native firs are fairly immune to attack.

The little boogers are hard to kill. Predators — both native and imported — have little effect. The Forest Service says the adelgids are hidden in protective niches of the trees’ bark and branches. Each bug is protected by its own wool-like waxy ooze. So aerial spraying over large areas won’t work, but spraying a single tree with an approved insecticide has proved effective for control.

That mammoth fir in Elizabethton isn’t just any old tree. It’s the second-tallest Fraser fir in the world. If that’s not reason enough to save it, the tree’s role in Elizabethton history and tradition certainly is.

The tree was brought down from Roan Mountain by Maj. Henderson Folsom’s family shortly after the end of the Civil War. Folsom was the highest-ranking Confederate soldier from Carter County. A highlight of the holiday season in Northeast Tennessee is the annual Christmas Tree Lighting event, when the bulb-covered fir illuminates in synch with a large “Merry Christmas” sign atop Lynn Mountain.

As Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson reported in Wednesday’s edition, Carter County officials have been talking with arborists about how much damage has been done and how to save the tree. That includes ongoing treatments to prevent further problems.

Treatment costs run from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000. County commissioners are set to air the topic in Monday’s commission meeting.

If the tissue analysis indicates treatment would be effective, it would be money well spent.

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