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Drought casualty: Clovis Christmas tree will be removed due to disease

The tree in Clovis’ Civic Center plaza that has been used as the community Christmas tree is dying in part because of the drought. It will be removed next week and replaced with another tree before the holidays.
The tree in Clovis’ Civic Center plaza that has been used as the community Christmas tree is dying in part because of the drought. It will be removed next week and replaced with another tree before the holidays. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The Clovis Christmas tree, which each year is decorated as the centerpiece of a community lighting ceremony, is dying due in part to the drought, and will be removed in coming days.

But city officials promise that the Clovis Civic Center’s annual Christmas event won’t be canceled. The lighting ceremony, scheduled for the first Monday night in December, will go on.

City officials say the coast redwood tree has a canker fungus, which is killing similar trees in the area.

The disease “is pretty widespread and we are seeing a lot of it in the city and the Valley,” said Luke Serpa, Clovis’ public utilities director.

The disease spread quickly, and within a week the tree went from green foliage to brown, Serpa said. The tree’s crown has browned completely, and there is browning along the sides.

“In about a week it went from looking fine to being half-dead,” he said.

Chances for disease are enhanced because of the drought and the tree’s inability to produce sap that combats invasive insects and disease, Serpa said.

The coast redwood’s range is along the Pacific coast from southern Oregon to Monterey County. The farthest inland stands are in Sonoma County.

Coast redwoods most susceptible to disease are “particularly those planted outside their normal range and those subject to unfavorable growing conditions,” said Bruce Hagen, a Napa County arborist and forester with the Urban Forest Ecosystem Institute who has written extensively about redwood diseases, in a report about redwood canker.

“Canker-causing fungi are fairly specific to trees that are exposed to environmental stress,” Hagen wrote.

The city’s plan is to pull out the existing redwood, a species that doesn’t typically thrive in the Valley, and replace it with a deodar cedar, a tree that has greater drought tolerance, said Serpa.

He said the city has a number of cedars that are candidates as a replacement for the redwood.

Removal work will occur Wednesday or Thursday, Serpa said.

The city will hire a contractor using a spade truck that will remove the tree by its root ball. The replacement cedar will be of similar size and inserted in place of the redwood, he said.

While the timing isn’t the best for Christmas, it is good for transplanting because it’s the beginning of the rainy season and will allow the new tree to take root more easily, Serpa said.

The city’s Christmas tree was transplanted in the late 1990s at the Civic Center site. At that time, it was more than 20 feet tall. Today its estimated height is 45 feet, Serpa said.

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