‘MRI’ for trees helps save live oaks on Mississippi coast

Before a developer began construction on a new project in downtown Ocean Springs, he commissioned root scans of two century-old oak trees on the property to show him where to build.

“We plan to build luxury townhouses with parking and swimming pools,” owner Jonathan Cothern said. “We hope to complete the project by next summer.”

The oak trees stand tall and side by side at the corner of Church Street and Robinson Street, one block west of Washington Avenue in downtown.

Cothern contacted Fulgham Inc., a Tupelo-based company of tree preservation specialists and consultants. The company has conducted tree assessments in Ocean Springs and across the coast and has saved many ancient oak trees after they were covered in salt water during Hurricane Katrina.

Fulgham Inc. purchased the equipment in May and is one of the only companies in the Southeast to use the ground penetrating radar of the TRU system to scan the roots and trunks of protected trees.

“This technology is new to the Gulf Coast and will be a game changer for tree preservation and development,” said Ben Kahlmus, Fulgham Gulf Coast Regional Manager, who is also a certified arborist and registered forester in Mississippi.

Instead of drilling a hole to inspect the health of a tree, the tree undergoes an “MRI”.

“We can look at the roots and determine how healthy they are,” Kahlmus said.

Analyzing the roots of the two Ocean Springs trees took about an hour, including setup.

“It’s super simple and user-friendly,” said Clayton Fulgham, who performed the nine or 10 scans on both trees using a handheld computer system on wheels.

Ground-penetrating radar sends electromagnetic waves into roots at a depth of 30 inches and along the circumference of the dip line of trees, he said, in this case about 24 feet.

Fulgham, who is a student and works at the company over the summer, was able to take the computer-generated root maps and transfer them to another modeling software that provides a much better 3D image that customers can understand.

The cost is $500 for a root scan and an additional $100 to $150 to perform a trunk scan, and Kahlmus said it’s very common to do both.

The turnaround is quick.

Within a week or two, the results are ready for the client, with a report and graphs.

Most Fulgham tree analyzes are performed on live oak trees.

“People like to build around them,” Kahlmus said, and live oaks are more stress tolerant than other trees.

But the radar works on any tree. This month, Clayton Fulgham also picked up the equipment to scan the beloved Oak of Friendship at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Long Beach campus. The tree that is believed to have grown on the coast since Christopher Columbus sailed to America in 1492, has suffered extensive damage in recent storms.

In cases like the Trees of Ocean Springs, radar tells developers which areas to avoid when laying foundations.

“It helps them tiptoe around the root density,” he said.

Residents of Ocean Springs are especially protective of their live oak trees, and Kahlmus said the developer is an engineer and does everything in his power to keep those trees healthy before and after construction.

Fulgham’s customers include homeowners who want to know if a tree on their property is healthy and safe, Kahlmus said, as well as commercial landlords, cities and universities who have a high-value tree they’re trying to protect.

The company saved small residential trees in backyards and worked with USM in Hattiesburg when a tornado tore through campus.

The radar can also be used after a tropical storm or hurricane to scan the trunk of a tree to see if it has been damaged by high winds, he said.

Since 2001 – even before Hurricane Katrina – the tree experts at Fulgham had been working to protect the root structure of the giant oak trees at Biloxi Town Green.

In 2006, company founder Bob Fulgham came up with a patented root treatment after Hurricane Katrina that saved trees in Biloxi and along the beach from salt water and other wind stress. and storm surges. The process fractures the ground with an explosive blast of compressed air and injects a liquid-based treatment into the fractured area at a low dose.

His process is now used in several other states.

In 2010, the company also saved seven trees that were poisoned in US Median 49 in Gulfport when MDOT workers over-sprayed against invasive cogon weed.

David Fulgham, who now runs the business, said when he first saw the poison trees “many of them looked dead or about to die”.

He told MDOT, “Don’t cut those trees now. Let’s deal with them and monitor them.

This new ground-penetrating radar technology allows the company to do even more to diagnose and treat trees without disturbing the ground around the trees or injuring the roots or trunk.

David Fulgham said it’s a tool that will help people make good decisions about their trees.

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