>AU making plans to rescue trees, backup plans for replacement

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“A lot of people are offering advice and are willing to do anything to help. We’ll get the experts together and look at suggestions and take action quickly.” Gary Keever, Auburn University professor or horticulture

Gary Keever isn’t ready to pull the plug on the poisoned, historic live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. But the Auburn University professor of horticulture has a backup plan, just in case.

“We’ve had offers from people in Florida and Birmingham that plant huge trees,” Keever told the Opelika-Auburn News following a Thursday morning press conference on the lawn of Samford Hall regarding the possibility of transplanting adult oaks. “Once everything cranks up – it could happen within a matter of weeks. It’s done all of the time.

“But they’re not dead yet.”

Keever said that for anything to be replanted on the oaks’ current site, “we must renew the soil.” But that decision rests with the university, not with him.

Keever and a team of Auburn agricultural officials are feverishly working to save the trees, which were lethally poisoned with the herbicide Spike 80DF. Auburn police arrested 62-year-old Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. of Dadeville early Thursday in connection with the poisoning.

On Jan. 27, a man using the name “Al in Dadeville” called “The Paul Finebaum Show,” a popular afternoon sports talk radio program, and bragged about poisoning the trees, the focal point for many Auburn University athletic celebrations.

“It (Spike 80DF) is very effective in what it does … and that is to kill plants,” said Stephen Enloe, Auburn University assistant professor of agronomy and soils. “The tree may re-green, but the herbicide is transported to the new leaves, and you’ll see the death cycle all over again.”

What is Spike 80DF used for?

“Spike is a very effective, highly specialized, soil-applied herbicide used in maintaining rangelands and railway lines and for other important applications,” said Garry Hamlin, a representative of Dow Chemical Company, a manufacturer of the herbicide. “It is sold as an off-white powder, to be diluted in water and applied to soil for root uptake by unwanted brush.

“Our company invests millions of dollars in research to develop an herbicide like this one and to generate label directions on how to use it properly,” Hamlin said. “We do not take misuse of our products lightly under any circumstances – and this is a case of particularly gross and egregious misuse.

“We are actively working with university officials to provide the best technical information to help mitigate damage to the trees. Removing affected soil around the trees and working in activated charcoal will help, but there is a distinct potential that even the best efforts at remediation will not be entirely successful.”

Officials agreed the trees’ future was “grim.”

Keever said soil samples continue to be taken from the location of the trees and that lab results should be available within 10 days. Enloe and Keever discussed the application of a liquid charcoal absorbant in the ground near the trees in an effort to help inactivate the herbicide, which Keever said can be active in the soil for “three to five years.”

“We’re doing what we can to lessen the impact of the herbicide,” Keever said. “We’ll know something soon. We have a huge area to work with. It’s such a diverse matrix of roots. It’s very difficult to do.

“A lot of people are offering advice and are willing to do anything to help. We’ll get the experts together and look at suggestions and take action quickly.”

Keever fears plants other than the live oaks, such as nearby holly and magnolia trees, could also be affected.

“If the roots get in contact, they’ll absorb it just like the live oaks did,” he said.

Keever noted that live oaks are not native to central Alabama, “but they have survived here since 1890.”

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