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Pine trees are dying all across Arkansas and experts don’t know why

Arkansas's lush, forest-green pine trees have been mysteriously dying across the state, and experts aren’t sure why.

ARKANSAS, USA — Pine trees have been mysteriously dying across Arkansas and experts aren’t sure why. Specifically, the victim of this aliment is the Arkansas state tree— the loblolly pine.

The normally lush, forest-green pine needles begin turning brown, limbs will fall, and in many cases, these trees die completely after becoming infected.  

Dead and drying trees pose a safety hazard and can be costly to cut down. Additionally, this mystery ailment also threatens Arkansas’ $3.6 billion dollar timber industry.

Like a detective sifting through evidence at a crime scene, Dr. Vic Ford, a forester by trade with the University of Arkansas Agriculture Extension Office has a few leads. Though, he and the team of scientists studying the issue readily admit they are far from cracking the case.

“We are detectives. We're trying not to eliminate anything. We're considering all the environmental factors,” Ford explained.

Just like in any other investigation, everyone and everything are considered to be suspects. 

At the top of the list includes disease, extreme weather, and chemical agents. Though one leading theory is that no single factor is the culprit, but rather a combination of many.

Some samples sent to laboratories for analysis confirmed the presence of pine needle blight, a pathogen known to affect trees in the southeastern United States. Though, Dr. Ford believes that may be a separate issue from the more widespread issue in Southeast Arkansas, the heart of timberland.

Recent weather extremes may be one of the leading factors that have been putting stress on Arkansas's beloved state tree. For instance, in a matter of months, Arkansas experienced a prolonged flash drought that was immediately followed by record rainfall.

Dr. Ford explained how when this happens trees aren’t able to handle the stress. 

“So that puts a tree under stress. And then if something else comes along, that will stress it more, and then if something else happens, then you've got the decline phenomenon," he added. “It's a multiple-factor problem. I think that's probably the best way the best words I could use to describe it. And it's a solvable problem. We've got the right people working on it, we just need some time”

Ford and his colleagues know that good science takes time, though they feel the pressure to solve this mystery as quickly as possible. The price tag for not doing so may be catastrophic.

“It's a big deal,” Ford stressed. “I'm trying to think of the millions of acres we have in Arkansas, about half of Arkansas is forested. The timber industry has a concern and they're looking for answers.”

According to data from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Arkansas’s thriving timber industry supports 27,000 jobs in the state and is responsible for bringing in $3.6 billion to the state’s economy.

Though finding answers has been just as important to everyday Arkansans, too.

For instance, one Arkansas County woman had over 100 pines succumb to the illness in her front yard. The cost to cut the dead timber was more than $26,000.

In De Witt, a once popular city park is now a tree graveyard full of stumps. City crews were forced to cut dead trees as falling limbs posed a serious safety hazard.

Dr. Ford’s group investigating this pine decline has heavily relied on citizen reports. Since May, these reports have come in from all corners of the state.

If you’ve noticed dead or dying pine trees, you’re encouraged to complete this form provided by the Arkansas Forestry Division.

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