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Beautiful but invasive: Officials looking to remove invasive chokecherry trees

 Chokecherry trees are seen along the bank of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. The trees while beautiful are invasive and can harm native habitats. (John Dougherty/KTVF)
Chokecherry trees are seen along the bank of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. The trees while beautiful are invasive and can harm native habitats. (John Dougherty/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 5:30 PM AKDT
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The USDA Forest Service and the Alaska Division of Forestry are offering grants to map and remove invasive chokecherry trees, as well as raise public awareness.

Chokecherries look great, smell even better, and are a sign that summer is here. However, these trees with their pretty white flowers can cause more harm than good. In recent years the chokecherry tree has taken over much of downtown Fairbanks. At the start of each summer the blossoms fill the air with a sweet fragrance. But, scientists are concerned about the detrimental effects that some varieties can have.

"We want the public to be aware that these plants are spreading, they are not native, and they can cause damage to our native systems," said Dan Rees, who has the forester seat on the Community Forest Council.

Rees said that the European Bird Cherry and Common Chokecherry are causing damage to local ecosystems in the Fairbanks and Southcentral of Alaska. He said the trees spread easily near water and can choke out other native plants. They can also harm wildlife.

"It effects the food of the salmon in the rivers. So, and they have done studies on this and it looks like it effects salmon reproduction. So they look great along the rivers, it's nice to see a flowering tree in the Interior, [but] they may affect our salmon and grayling and they can kill moose," he said. The chokecherry trees have cyanide in their leaves which has been known to make moose sick and sometimes even kill them.

Because of these dangers, the state is offering grants to look into mapping and removing them. According to a press release from the Department of Natural Resources, there is up to $200,000 available in grants of up to $25,000 each.

Reese also encourages citizens to help out with controlling the trees. "It is starting to be a problem so we are encouraging people to, if they can, remove the trees that they have, realizing that they spread a lot from any remains of the roots so they will need to remove any roots if they can."

He also says not to buy new trees and plant them in yards. For people who still want a flowering tree, he says there are other options. "There is alternative chokecherry species and crabapples or other native species that people could use instead of using chokecherries."

More information about the invasive species can be found online at the UAF Cooperative Extension.

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