Save Our Chelsea Oaks: A Call for Citizen Scientists of All Ages
Here is a letter to the Chelsea community from Jason Eyster:
Fellow residents, let’s join together to save Chelsea’s oak trees. The Chelsea area has many treasures, one of which is the presence of many giant oak trees. Other parts of the county and of the state do not host these mighty trees that grow from tiny acorns. Sadly, during the past few years our oaks have begun to die a slow death. You may have noticed that throughout the summer some of the oak trees in our neighborhood are sporting yellow leaves instead of the normal dark green. While in the first year only a few branches maybe yellow, by the third year all are yellow and a few years later the tree dies.
In one afternoon this past summer I drove around Chelsea and identified 52 oaks that are affected. I invited scientists from Michigan State University and the Department of Natural Resources to do field research in this area. They took samples of leaves, bark, and the soil surrounding the trees and concluded that the soil is very alkaline and that the trees are suffering from chlorosis, which means that the leaves lack chlorophyll, the green pigment that is essential in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from light. This might be due to high alkalinity, nutrient deficiencies in the plant, or some other cause.
This yellowing of the oak’s leaves affects both young and mature trees, both White and Red Oaks, and both those trees next to roads and those deep in the woods. It is a new phenomenon. Why for the first time in our memory are our oaks dying? If the soil is too alkaline, how could the trees have flourished for more than one hundred years?
From my reading of Scientific journals and communicating with professors from the University of Michigan and Michigan State, I find that no one has an answer.
I therefore invite anyone who would like to be a citizen scientist to join with me to solve this mystery. If we do not, dead oaks will begin falling on houses, blocking roads, and depriving us of the natural beauty of country roads and the shade in our backyards.
I propose to form a group that will meet on Zoom each week to share information, learn about the chemistry of the trees, and discuss scientific articles. Most importantly, we will organize to test the pH of the soil around oak trees (how acidic or basic it is) and make plans to look for yellow leafed oaks next spring, measure their diameter, write down their exact location and the amount of dead limbs. We will also devise experiments to cure the trees, even if temporarily, by spreading certain minerals on the soil around the tree. We will also invite scientists to speak at our Zoom meetings and share our findings with them. Finally, we will propose explanations (hypotheses) for why the trees and dying and what we as a community can do to SAVE OUR OAKS.
During this time of CoVid, when we cannot join freely together, this project allows us to do independent field work of great importance. I think we will all learn so much and will do so much good. You are welcome to join, regardless of your age. If you have not completed high school biology and chemistry, I you might want to participate with someone who has. We will begin meeting on Thursday evenings from 8 to 9 pm as soon as enough people are interested. There is no cost to join in, other than your commitment to contribute to the group and to enjoy the process. Please email me, Jason Eyster, at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about yourself and what experience or skills you have that may be useful. This would include artistic and poetic skills, since we will want to share our results with the community in a way that will encourage them to save our oaks.