LADYSMITH, WI -- The legacy of the ice/snow storm of mid-December will continue to be written across a large portion of northwest Wisconsin this spring as the deep snow eventually fades away and the landscape is dried by sun and wind. Increased potential for forest fires, damage to trees, threat of falling limbs and trees as well as a potential increase in spread of oak wilt are all concerns related to this once in a generation weather event that brought much of northwest Wisconsin to a virtual standstill for several days.
Many home and landowners will have a great deal of branches, limbs and trees to clean up on their property. Landowners should consider chipping or composting woody debris, or where possible leaving brush piles to benefit rabbits and other wildlife as alternatives to burning. If a decision is made to burn the material, several items need to be addressed. The first is making sure the burning is done in a safe and legal way. Burning when the ground is snow covered is always preferred as it is safest and requires no permit. The townships of Maple Plain, Lakeland, Bear Lake, Cedar Lake, Doyle, Sumner, Chetek , and Dovre as well as the portions of Stanley and Prairie Lake townships east of Highway SS in Barron County and all of Rusk County outside city and village limits require an annual burning permit from the DNR in order to legally burn whenever the ground is not completely snow covered during the duration of the burn. You can obtain your free annual DNR burning permit online at dnr.wi.gov search keyword burning permits or by calling 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876). Written permits can also be obtained at Bob and Steve’s BP Amoco station in Cameron, Weyerhaeuser Cenex, Ladysmith Ace and Brost Corner Store in Sheldon. Once obtained, these permits are good for the calendar year. Permit holders need to check the fire danger after 9am on the day they wish to burn to see if burning is allowed that day and what the legal hours of burning are. In spring, legal burning hours are generally from 6pm to midnight. This is an important step as fire danger can change quickly in the spring as weather conditions change from day to day.
Another area of concern is the amount of material to be burned. With an annual permit, it is legal to burn a pile of leaves/brush that is no larger than 6’X6’X6’. Piles larger than that require issuance of a special burn permit which involves a DNR fire control staff visit to inspect the pile to be burned to make sure the burn can be done safely based on the site and weather conditions. A special permit when written, allows burning of the material within a period of no more than five days and may allow burning outside the legal burning hours as defined by an annual burning permit.
City and villages may have their own burning regulations and residents there should check before burning to see if permits are required and if any other restrictions are in place regarding open burning within their municipality.
Many trees were greatly impacted by the storm, losing large limbs and in many cases being severely bent by the weight of the ice/snow load. Some of these trees had their tops freeze to the ground and have been bent in a u-shape all winter. Young aspen and birch were especially susceptible to this, as well as lilacs and many other yard shrubs. Stems that are cracked or split will most likely not recover and should be pruned out. If the tree is just bent you may want to leave it for a growing season to see if it straightens out. Most likely many trees will not completely straighten. At that point a landowner can decide whether they want to leave the tree or cut it down if they do not like the way the tree looks in their yard. Pine trees, especially white pines, suffered many broken branches leaving them looking quite scrappy. If you are thinking of pruning off remaining broken stubs, it is important not to cut off flush with trunk of tree. Pruning cuts should be made just outside branch collar, a raised swollen area between trunk of tree and branch or between a smaller branch and a larger limb. If pruned correctly, no wound paint or covering is necessary as the tree will heal itself at the branch collar.
A special note on pruning is to avoid doing any cutting on oak trees from mid April through July. This is important due to the fact that the beetle that transmits oak wilt is most active during this time period. The beetles are attracted to any fresh wounds on oaks, so simply pruning a small branch off an oak tree in May could open the door to a beetle transmitting oak wilt to an otherwise healthy tree. Oak wilt interferes with the transport system within an oak tree, completely killing it within a few weeks in the case of the red oak group. Oaks are best pruned during dormancy so wait until late fall or winter to prune any damage to oaks on your property.
When our snow is finally gone, many will be looking to get out and about in their yards and woods. One last thing to keep in mind is the danger from above. There are many broken limbs and branches still hanging up in trees waiting for the wind with help from gravity to pull them down to the ground. Even a fairly small diameter branch falling from the top of a 65-70 foot tall tree can cause serious injury. If branches are identified stuck in tree tops, especially in yards or around the home and driveway, caution should be shown. If a homeowner cannot safely reach the branch to remove it, especially a larger branch, it may be worth the cost of having a tree service come to remove it safely. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
For more information on burning permits, fire danger and questions you may have involving your forest or trees go to dnr.wi.gov and click on the Forestry tab.
-- Per Ron Weber, Forester Ranger, Ladysmith DNR