Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Toomer’s Oaks May Have Fighting Chance

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, February 21, 2011

In a previous entry, I shared that Auburn University‘s historic Toomer’s Corner oak trees were poisoned with the powerful herbicide Spike 80DF, according to a telephone call made by the now-arrested prime suspect, 62-year-old Harvey Almorn Updyke of Dadeville, AL.

Mr. Updyke called the Paul Finebaum sports radio talk show and confessed on air that, “The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Alabama – because I live 30 miles away – and I poisoned the two Toomer’s trees. I put Spike 80DF in ‘em.

In that entry entitled “Arrest Made in Poisoning of Auburn’s Historic Toomer’s Corner Oak Tree,” I remarked that “There may be some saving grace in this issue because warm weather and Spring have not arrived with any consistency yet, and therefore the trees may not yet be in bud, and (I suppose) do not yet have foliage, thus preventing significant uptake of poison.”

Now, it seems that at least one other voice concurs.

And, that’s good news!

Expert: Toomer’s trees may stand a chance

By Elizabeth Zimmerman

The outlook for the poisoned trees at Toomer’s Corner is grim, but they may survive an attack for which a disgruntled Alabama fan has claimed responsibility, a local forestry expert said.

Billy Rye of Forest Management Specialists Inc. said the dosage of tebuthiuron, an agricultural pesticide, the trees received was likely lethal, but the timing of the attack — winter instead of spring — works in their favor.

“They’re dormant at this time, so they’re not actively absorbing the herbicide,” Rye said. “If those folks at Auburn can successfully neutralize the chemical before it’s absorbed, the trees’ chances will improve. But that’ll be a big task.”

He cited the case of the Texas Treaty Oak, which was poisoned in 1989. More than two-thirds of the tree died, but it survived against the odds because of intensive efforts to save it.

“They used high-pressure washers and air excavators and blew and washed the soil out from around the roots, and they gave injections to counteract the negative impact of the herbicide,” Rye said. “I imagine they’ll take a similar course here.”

In the Texas case, the poisoner was caught and sentenced to nine years in prison. The Toomer’s culprit also may face charges, because while tebuthiuron is commonly available at co-ops, Rye said, it must be applied on the purchaser’s own property.

“That or you have to have a pesticide applicators license, but I don’t think that’s the case here,” he said.

Rye emphasized that herbicides are generally beneficial, and this is a rare instance of misuse. “Somebody’s taking football a little too seriously,” he said.

Even so, Rye said, targeting Auburn may have been the flaw in the vandal’s plan. “The outlook still is not good, even though they got on it early and have all the experts, but it couldn’t have happened at a place with more resources available than Auburn. All those horticulture, forestry and weed science professors will do their best to make sure this tree survives.”


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