Wintry Weather Downs Trees in Duke Forest

Freezing rain, ice may impact thousands of trees in forest

A section of pine trees in Duke Forest was so heavily covered in ice at the beginning of March the trees nearly bent over to the ground. Duke Forest staff are surveying damage to determine how badly weather has impacted Duke's 7,000-acre natural space. P

Duke Forest staff members are surveying damage suffered across portions of the 7,000-acre forest during the recent ice storm that swept through the region March 6 and 7.

Crews have discovered broken branches and downed trees and have worked since March 7 to clean up debris. The full extent of the freezing rain and ice is yet to be determined, but has the potential to take down thousands of trees in Duke Forest, mostly less than 20 years of age,

"As we went through to check roads, we saw that the ground had become so wet that some big trees uprooted and smaller trees were bent over or broken," said Judd Edeburn, resource manager for Duke Forest. "But the first thing we did was get our roads cleared, make sure power was reestablished to several research sites and access was open."

Nobody was injured because of the fallen trees and trails were reopened on March 8, after Duke staff and contractors made an initial sweep to clear branches and other debris.

So far, staff found the hardest hit trees are young pines in the Durham Division of the forest, and damage appears worse in north western areas of Orange and Alamance counties. Some pine trees, which are about six years old and up to 12 feet in height, became completely bent over with tips nearly touching the ground as a result of ice gathering on the needles.

The bent pines are in a roughly nine-acre block of trees in the Durham Division of the forest. Edeburn said staff would continue to monitor them over the next few weeks to determine their long term status . If the trees don't straighten by themselves, they may need to be removed and replaced with seedlings. If a larger tree is removed, it'll be cut for lumber and sold, with proceeds supporting the Duke Forest.

Luckily, the quick change from winter weather to sunny and windy days may be a boon to the hardwood, which simply need to dry, Edeburn said. As water falls off, trees will straighten out on their own or Duke Forest staff may even use a pulley system to manually straighten them.

"We'll give it a week or so for them to equilibrate, and we'll evaluate each area of trees to assess damage," he said.

In coming days, Duke Forest staff will check trees in Alamance County, which received up to a half-inch of ice during the winter storm.