FARMINGTON — The campus surrounding Franklin Community Health Network contains acres of tall red pine trees. These trees were planted in the 1940s with the intent to harvest for lumber at maturity. The trees were planted close together, which has made them prone to disease because they were not harvested as intended, according to a news release from the nonprofit health network.

In 2017, Franklin received a Forest Pathologist’s assessment from the Maine Forest Service regarding the general health of the red pine trees on the campus. The 2017 report and subsequent assessments have determined that many of the red pine trees are prone to two common diseases (Diplodia tip blight and Sirococcus shoot blight), as well as insect infestations by various native bark beetles that contribute to tree health decline. Many of the pine needles have turned a dry red color from disease.

As Franklin conservatively monitored the condition of the red pine trees over the past three years, an assessment was received from a local professional forester that their health is in a state of rapid decline. As a result, the most compromised trees were tagged and removed this past August.

In mid-January, the health network will have all remaining red pines harvested on the campus. This phase involves large equipment. The ground must be frozen hard — preferably with snow on it — to protect the ground from the equipment. The work will be done as soon as ground conditions are ideal. The work will occur over a weekend to minimally impact the hospital’s normal services.

The campus will look much different with all the red pines gone. The health network wishes there were an alternative to this major action, but unfortunately the declining tree health poses a safety threat to its patients, staff and facilities.

The positive news is that the forests around the campus will bounce back to life because a variety of younger hardwood trees are growing under the canopy of the tall pines; as soon as the pine trees are harvested, the sunlight will allow the natural landscape to thrive.

The health network is partnering with the Farmington Conservation Commission to develop a plan to replant portions of the harvested areas closer to the buildings. It also is pursuing a possible grant from the Maine Forest Service to help with replanting costs.

In the coming months, the health network will solicit feedback from hospital employees and the broader community to design landscapes for all to enjoy for generations.

filed under: