What is causing limb damage to some of our white pine trees? It looks like...

Asked July 7, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

What is causing limb damage to some of our white pine trees? It looks like someone took a knife and whittled away at the branches. No one has been climbing our trees. This is from some animal. The pictures attached are from damage about chest high, however there is damage to other trees that is about 20 feet above the ground. There are no bite or claw marks that I can see. No ground digging, or gnawing on the trunk. The gnawing always is on the top side of the limb. I was able to spot a broken branch on one of the larger trees that is about 20 feet off of the ground and broken perhaps 4 feet from the trunk. I haven't seen any trunk damage on any of the trees, just branches. I have looked for unusual tracks in the mud after recent rains, but all I've seen are raccoon. We've seen raccoons here since we've moved in 11 years ago, but never damage to the trees. Our lot butts up to a woods that is about 40 acres. The development that we live in was once a tree farm. There are many white pines left from those days. Also, the only damage I've seen is on the white pines and I believe the damage is done at night.

Medina County Ohio

3 Responses

This is a tough one, but it seems as if the most likely culprit is climbing the trees, striping some bark, and breaking the branches. Here are a couple of possibilities:
1) porcupine - while they are not at all prevalent in Ohio, there have been reports of porcupine and porcupine damage in the NE corner of the state. Porcupine will climb trees, strip bark, and break branches, though the damage is typically more severe than what you are experiencing.
2) groundhog - We often forget that groundhogs can climb trees, and like tree squirrels will gnaw and strip bark like you are experiencing. Groundhogs are active during the day, however, so keep your eye out for them. They will also likely be denning nearby, so check for ground burrows.
3) raccoon - Because you have raccoon in the area, you have seen tracks around the tree, and you suspect the damage is occurring at night, this may be the answer. The odd part is that raccoons don't typically strip bark like this. However, I've received reports of raccoons eating some pretty odd things (like porch light bulbs), so it's possible.
I'm sorry I can't give you a more conclusive answer. Keep looking for tracks. You might also consider putting up a trail camera near one of the trees to see if you can catch the culprit on film. Good luck.

Thanks for your help. We had more damage high up in another tree last night. I will try the trail camera idea. I saw a groundhog about a year ago and dispatched it. Haven't seen any since then, but will look for dens and look for them. I didn't know groundhogs would climb trees. Thanks for teaching me something new. :)

You are certainly welcome! Let me know if you find out exactly what it is!