The Haddonfield Shade Tree Commission says a disease eating away at two of every 10 oak trees in the borough.
Bacterial leaf scorch (BLS) is a disease that affects oak trees, particularly red and pin oaks.
It's a big deal in a town with nearly 10,000 trees in the public right of way, and an estimated 10,000 or more on private property within this 2.5-square-mile borough. Most of the public trees are oaks, which grow 50 feet tall or higher at maturity.
"We believe that the cost for removal will be significant and must come from the borough's operating budget, as removals are not considered a capital expense and grants for removals are not available," Robin Potter, the chairwoman of the Haddonfield Shade Tree Commission, said Monday on a local Internet chat room where the topic of borough trees was trending. "You may have noticed that we did not plant trees throughout the borough this past spring, spending our budget on tree removal instead."
Potter said a 2010 tree inventory identified hundreds of trees that needed to be immediately removed. More than 350 have been removed since then, but nearly 2,000 diseased trees may still need to come down in coming years.
Potter and the tree commission have stepped up efforts to get the word out to Haddonfield residents that bacterial leaf scorch is a serious problem that will command a growing share of public resources. Potter spearheaded the production team for the borough's latest town calendar, which uses a tree theme for each month to drive home the point of how important trees are to the town's identity.
The commission is also sponsoring local tree tours and updating its page on the borough website frequently with updates.
Haddonfield is designated as a Tree City USA town, a designation from the national Arboratum Society for towns with a significant canopy of municipal trees. That canopy could be threatened in coming years if up to 20 percent of borough oak trees are taken down because of the disease.
The aftermath of Sandy, the tropical storm that ravaged the Mid-Atlantic two weeks ago, 18 massive trees here were toppled. It's not immediately clear if any of them were diseased, but the prospect of massive trees toppling on cars, houses or people is enough to raise public attention.
Potter said the good news about the massive oaks is the wood is extremely dense, which keeps the bark and many branches strong. The tree may stop producing an abundant canopy of leaves but not be in immediate danger of falling for years.
"If residents are concerned whether the oak trees on their property may have BLS, they should first identify the tree species and then consult with a licensed arborist, a certified tree expert licensed by the state, to evaluate the tree," Potter said.
Potter said the one of the best times to identify diseased trees is in late summer or early fall if leaves start to turn brown prematurely.
But one respondent on Haddonfield Talks, the local Internet chat room, urged immediate action for borough shade trees.
"If the borough was really serious about this problem, we would see at least 500 trees being removed per year and we are not seing a rate even close to that," said a chat participant identified only as Jeff. "It won't wait for a solution to present itself...this inaction will hurt both the landscape and the risk profile of this town for years to come."