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Arborists warn of 'zombie trees'

Last winter's harsh ice storm coupled with record heat and drought have left trees susceptible to rot, damage and failure, warn arborists.

CAMAS, Wash. — As we get deeper into autumn, experts say trees may be at risk for losing more than just their leaves.

“This year has been particularly bad with trees we normally don't see problems with,” said Dash Schenck, certified arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Company. In just the last week, Schenck said he responded to more than a dozen calls of trees falling onto houses, garages or fences.

“The lack of water we've got and then that heat back in the summertime really stressed the trees out… and so even in light weather like this with just a little bit of rain, the conditions are just right that trees can break or fall.”

Schenck also pointed to the February ice storm that killed many trees and left others with dead and damaged branches. He said some of those trees are structurally unsound, though at first glance they may not look damaged or decayed. He calls those, "zombie trees.”

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“Those branches can fail and then they can hit your home or your car or the worst-case scenario, somebody being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

To help homeowners protect their trees, Schenck advises all of his clients to look up at their trees, often.

“If you really look at your canopy, you might start seeing things that you just don't see with a quick glance,” said Schenck. “You may see a dead branch or a broken branch or something hanging or that part of the tree is actually dead.”

Besides just looking up at the canopy of your tree, arborists advise property owners to also look down at the tree’s trunk base. If you spot mushrooms or mushroom conks growing from the trunk, they warn it could also be a sign of decay.

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“That doesn't mean the whole tree's decayed-out, but mushrooms feed on decay so we know there's something there,” said Schenck. “To know how extensive, it usually takes more investigation, but it tends to be the first sign of a major problem.”

Schneck added that catching that problem in time is the key, whether it's to elongate the life of your tree or protect property underneath it.

“It definitely can be managed,” said Schenck. “Just having an arborist come out and inspect your trees yearly can save you a lot of headache.”

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