After living a tough life, a Ponderosa Pine that stood proudly at Sacajawea Park is no more.
But despite its death this year, the tree goes on to serve the Billings city park system.
When the tree was young, it was wounded by a lawn mower.
“Every tree depends on nutrition that travels from its roots throughout the tree by a cambium layer just under the bark. When any bark is removed on one side of a trunk, even at the base, the tree above that section never gets fully fed again,” explained Jon Kohn, seasonal forestry technician for City of Billings Parks, Recreation and Public Lands.
That problem led to another.
Because the tree wasn’t eating well or had open wounds, the pine became infected by native bark beetles.
“Their larvae tunnel under the bark, eating even more of the cambium layer, which can kill a mature tree. Their telltale sign is a beautiful blue color in the dead wood, left by a microscopic blue stain fungus which lives upon the baby beetles,” said Kohn.
The tree took another blow when it was struck by lightning in 2021. The Billings Fire Department extinguished a lightning fire in the tree, and the strike burned the length of the trunk.
Forestry cut down the pine this past August.
But that wasn’t the end of the tree’s story.
Because the pine had long, straight limbs, the parks forestry crew recognized this feature of the tree would make good water bars to help control erosion on the main trail at Phipps Park northwest of Billings.
City of Billings Arborist Steve Riley and his crew put the limbs in place using rebar and mattocks.
The limbs are now draining water from the trail, which had deeply eroded since the park opened decades ago.
Although the tree is no longer providing shade to visitors at Sacajawea Park, less than 10 miles away, it continues to serve another purpose.
“The crew agreed, it felt good to re-use Billings-grown wood to help maintain the beautiful natural area of Phipps Park,” said Kohn.