Bradford Pear Bounty program a success

by | Jun 6, 2022

Photo courtesy of Shea Phillips

It started with a simple question: how do we get rid of those Bradford Pears?

A simple premise, but complicated in execution. So when Dr. Kelly Oten of NC State University Extension began looking at ways to start reducing the numbers of the invasive tree species in North Carolina, she took inspiration from a program in our southern neighbor – a Bradford Pear “bounty” program which would invite landowners to uproot and bring in their Bradford Pear trees to be replaced with other native species.

Working with Lesley Moorman of the NC Urban Forest Coalition, Cara Moore of the NC Wildlife Federation and Jennifer Rall of the NC Forest Service, Oten began looking at options for getting such a program off the ground.

Early on, the main concern was funding the purchase of new trees Oten said. That issue was solved by a pair of grants – one from Duke Energy and the other from the Cooperative Extension itself.

“The grant from Duke Energy essentially allowed us to purchase all of our replacement trees,” Oten said. “The reason why they were so invested is because a lot of people plant Bradford Pears underneath power lines, and when they grow they end up getting tangled in the lines. Bradford Pears are also very prone to breakage, so if they break during a storm or even on a sunny day they can take those power lines down as well.”

The rest of the money came from the Renewable Resources Extension Act, a fund administered through cooperative extension which funds pilot projects to address forest health issues. With those two funding sources secured, the next step was figuring out the logistics – when, where, and how many trees?

It took “a lot of zoom hours,” according to Oten, but the team eventually settled on holding their first event on April 23 in Greensboro. The response from the public was immediate and overwhelmingly positive, Oten said, and she estimated that the event ended up distributing around 200 trees.

That is a great first step toward controlling the spread of the Bradford Pear, which is an invasive species originally designed to be sterile. Generations of breeding for different traits eventually resulted in new varieties of the species, however, which allowed the tree to begin reproducing unchecked.
“Bradford Pear has historically been very popular because it could thrive in really bad soil and because it’s an early bloomer, and both of those things make it a really strong invasive species,” Oten said. “The wild variety, which we call Callary Pear, is able to outcompete a lot of our native species and force out the plants that should be growing there.”

Those who brought in their Bradford Pears had a variety of native species to choose from, depending on how much space they had available. Smaller trees like Redbuds and Dogwoods were most popular, Oten said, but larger trees like Sycamores and Oaks were also available for those with more open areas.

Photo courtesy of Shea Phillips

The positive reception has encouraged Oten and the other organizers to bring the bounty program back in the fall. While full plans have not been announced, Oten said that the group is targeting the town of Matthews as the next stop for Bradford bounty hunters. She said she hopes to work on communicating the requirements more clearly, as some participants did not understand that they needed to dig up and transport their Bradford Pears and take their new trees home on their own.

“We had so many volunteers who were just fantastic, and we had so many positive interactions with the people who came and picked up their trees,” she said. “It was overall a very fun and enjoyable experience, and we are very much looking forward to our Fall event.”

More information on future bounty programs is soon to come. Make sure to keep an eye on and visit the NCSU Extension on Facebook to keep up-to-date.