While surveying the trees of McPherson lately, it doesn't take Paul Katzer long to become worried.
While surveying the trees of McPherson lately, it doesn't take Paul Katzer long to become worried. The city’s Parks Department superintendent has been keeping his eyes on their health, and has seen the effects of the two-year drought that is quickly suffocating many long-standing trees in the community. “I don't know when it’s all going to end, but I hope it will be soon,” he said. “We’ve had periods of drought, but it hasn't been as extended as this. This is the worst I’ve seen it in my time in McPherson.” McPherson was more than 12.5 inches below normal precipitation levels this week, according to the most recent Kansas Agricultural Statistics report. In McPherson's central district, moisture levels were short or very short for 77 percent of the topsoil moisture and 88 percent of the subsoil. Although he laments to do so, Katzer expects to be marking 40 to 60 trees for removal in the spring. He will give them one last chance for a rally, but if there is no hope of survival, many homeowners and park goers will experience missing shade. “I think they’ve been damaged to the point they cannot come back,” Katzer said. At the peak of his concern are the Silver Maples. Katzer said they are normally more worry-free than other trees, which are more prone to disease and insect damage. Many were even planted in place of other varieties in the past when they couldn’t survive other unfavorable circumstances. But the Silver Maples, who have more of a shallow root system, have been showing signs of damage, such as stripped bark near the top of the tree. Silver Maples make up about 25 percent of McPherson's tree inventory. “They’re just really showing stress I haven’t seen before,” Katzer said. “To see them die from drought is kind of strange.” Removal is imperative especially for Silver Maples, whose wood is brittle and will fall if left unattended. Other varieties affected by the drought are Lindens, Oaks and Redbuds. Katzer said his conversations with others around the state, including those with K-State Research and Extension, have concluded trees throughout the state are facing a similar fate due to the extreme heat and wind. “It seems like we’re 30 days off schedule,” Katzer said. “The weather forecasts I’ve seen don’t show any rain at all. I don’t know if it’s ever going to get wet, but I wish it would. Maybe this is our new moisture level.” If that is the case, Katzer said McPherson will be forced to look into the next 15 years with a different perspective. “I just can't imagine McPherson without all those big trees,” he said. “It’s going to be a whole different world here. It’s a big concern of mine.” In many cases, the large trees are suffering because many homeowners think they no longer need assistance like smaller trees. “They don’t realize these big trees need water,” Katzer said, adding they were running especially low the last few years as they released moisture to combat the hot summers. As another dry winter approaches, the need for water is also often forgotten. The Park Department is doing what it can to assist the trees on city property. Katzer said the department is considering pumping water from Lakeside Park and Wall Park’s ponds to assist the trees — something they’ve never done before. “That’s just crazy to think of it,” he said. “It’s not something I look forward to doing.”