SOUTH BEND -- Aware that a 90-year-old American elm on the South Quad had, for some time, been dying, the University of Notre Dame, on Aug. 2, 1955, had Henry Moore, a South Bend tree surgeon, remove the 80-foot giant.
Later that same week, the city of South Bend hired Moore to remove another, smaller elm, in the 600 block of Ostemo Place, in the Northshore Triangle.
A story in the Aug. 1, 1955, edition of The Tribune, under the headline "Elm disease is found in 2 trees here," reported on the surgeon's work.
"The first proof of the arrival of Dutch elm disease in St. Joseph County was reported today by Henry W. Moore, South Bend tree surgeon," it read. "Samples taken from both trees showed Dutch elm disease when subjected to laboratory analysis."
Spread by the elm bark beetle, the disease, first reported in the United States in 1928, in New England, had, at the time, been spreading slowly east-to-west across the North American continent, laying waste to nearly all of the elms in its path.
Over the next two decades, cities here and across the country would wage a protracted battle against the disease, attacking it first with chemicals, including DDT, and then, when that didn't work, with axes and chain saws.
Six decades later, the South Quad at the university, once shaded by hundreds of tall, stately elms, now features a variety of smaller trees, some just 15 to 20 years old, evidence of the near total devastation caused by the disease.
"There were probably close to 100 elm trees on the South Quad," Pat McCauslin, superintendent of landscape services at the university, recalls. "If you look back at old archive photos from the 1930s and '40s, the trees look like they're anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in diameter."
Now, he said, just a couple remain.
'The real thing'
In a similar fashion, the emerald ash borer is in the process now of destroying the continent's billions of ash trees. First detected in the United States in 2002, and in St. Joseph County in 2006, the invasive beetle has already killed tens of millions of trees in New England and the Midwest.
The female of the species, marked by a brilliant, metallic green body, lays its eggs on the bark of the tree. The larvae then hatch, bore into the trunk, and feed on the plant, eventually killing it.
In May, the city of South Bend cut down more than a dozen infested ash trees along Michigan Street, outside 1st Source Bank, denuding a large portion of the block. Double Tree later removed about four more on the opposite side of the block, along St. Joseph Street.
In an effort to control the spread of the insect, the city plans to remove all 108 ash trees in the public right of way downtown, plus hundreds more in the city's parks, over the next several months, city forester Brent Thompson says. (Insecticides and other chemical treatments that could potentially save the trees have been deemed too expensive, he says.)
In time, most all of the city's ash trees, which make up about 6 percent of the total tree population in the city, will succumb to the beetle, South Bend parks Superintendent Phil St. Clair predicts.
"There'll be very few ash trees that are going to survive this," St. Clair says. "It's the real thing, and it's devastating to the ash tree population."
Mishawaka city forester Rick Springer agrees.
"Ash trees that have been treated, I think they'll be OK and survive this," Springer says. "But any that are not treated will eventually die."
At present, Springer says, Mishawaka does not plan to remove any ash trees in the city, nor does it plan to treat any "because of the costs involved."