Save a Tree!

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By, Jenifer Cohn

It's a great day for a ride. The temperature is perfect, the sky is shining blue, your rig is running perfectly, (for now). This is what itís all about. You just climbed a rock garden and sit triumphantly at the top, for a second anyway, until you need to move for the next guy. You start turning back onto the trail and start sliding left. Reverse, readjust, and still you slide, narrowly missing a large tree immediately out your door. You have gotten wedged, and your next move to attempt escape grinds your roll bar against the tree, and a large piece of bark comes with it, leaving a shiny basketball-sized exposed area. You slowly remove your Tread Lightly! cap from your head.

It has happened to almost everyone sometime on a ride, unintentional damage, and you know that when you drive away you have just done what all the people who oppose off-road vehicles in the woods oppose it for. While we all strive for the best technique to avoid these situations, and hope that trees would never be damaged, sometimes they are. On a recent ride, despite all attempts to avoid the tree, this happened to us.

So what do you do next? We asked around, and got varying information and opinions. Some felt that nothing needed to be done, stating that if the same damage had been done by a storm, the tree would be left as is and nature would take it's course. While that is true, we felt it might be better to see if there was something more we could do, since the damage did not occur naturally, and the tree was a very tall and stately hardwood, we think a maple of some sort.

Investigation led us to Dr Michael Hardig, Professor of Biology at the University of Montevallo, who advised us that action was needed to save the tree. He suggested a pruning spray be used on the damaged area that would create a protective layer, replacing as best we could the bark layer we removed. This would prevent the tree from being invaded by parasites and other pathogens, and increase it's chance to repair itself and survive our intrusion.

According to Dr. Hardig, "bark provides protection to trees from a host of insect pathogens. When a tree's bark layer has been damaged to the point where the underlying tissue is exposed, it greatly increases the tree's susceptibility to infection and can result in premature death. However, the threat is not just the loss of a single tree. A single infected tree, in an otherwise healthy grove, can serve as a vector for future adventitious infections amongst the other trees that may become weakened as a result of recurring environmental stresses, like drought. Sealing a fresh wound only takes minutes, and could save an entire forest."

Dr. Hardig also reminded us of the reason we use tree straps when we use trees for winching up a hill . Without a strap, the winch cable would wrap around the tree without protection, causing a cut in the bark. "If the damage entirely encircles the bole [trunk] of the tree (this is called "girdling") the tree is doomed, irrespective of any efforts to seal the wound. A tree that has been girdled can no longer replenish its root cells with sugars produced in the leaves. The roots starve to death, and the tree will quickly succumb."

We also contacted Tread Lightly! to find out if they had any recommendations for us. While they obviously would prefer that our driving techniques prevented any damage, they had this to say, "Although Tread Lightly! does not have a specific standard regarding the reparation of damaged flora, we applaud Rockcrawler for their efforts in researching and determining a biologically supported method to alleviate any further impacts." Jill Scott, Assistant Director, Tread Lightly!

We decided we wanted to try the spray. So, we headed down to our local feed and seed, and sure enough, small cans pf pruning spray were available at a very reasonable cost of around $4.00 a can. A small price to pay to save a hardwood and promote the good name of off-roading everywhere.

We purchased the spray and proceeded to return to the trail. Applying the spray was fast and easy, exactly like spray painting, and in fact, looks exactly like black spray paint when applied. This we actually weren't that happy with, and had concerns that it might appear we had done just that, used paint to cover our damage. (The application of paint would do nothing good for damaged trees at all, and we do not suggest using this as a replacement). However, we felt good about what we were doing and plan to keep a can with us on all future trail runs.

Trail closings are happening everywhere. Anything we can do to promote our sport, to demonstrate that the off-roading community is willing and ready to take care of the woods as we ride in them, will benefit everyone. So grab a can of pruning spray next time you're at Home Depot and throw it in with your cooler and trail stuff. Hopefully you won't need it, but will be ready if you or someone in your group does. See you on the trails



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