An Old Enemy
White pine blister rust, once largely defeated,
may be mounting a comeback.
By Joe Rankin
Hollis Prior knew he was in trouble when the bull got between him and the fence. He
hadn’t paid much attention to the herd lying in the shade chewing their cud and shaking
off flies as he led his crew into the pasture. That is, until one of the men yelled, “Bull!”
The others hot-footed it for the fence. Prior climbed a tree, then yelled for one of the
crew to go fetch the farmer. For the next four hours he directed his Ribes eradication
crew from his perch as the three-year-old Holstein snorted and circled the trunk. “He
wouldn’t go away. He just kept bellering and pawing the ground. He wanted to get me,”
Prior, now 76, remembers. Livestock was just one of the hazards for the crews fighting
one of America’s largely unheralded wars: the War on White Pine Blister Rust, a major
disease of five-needle pines.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, Ribes eradication
crews scoured several New England states, pulling
and spraying the plants in an effort to prevent the
spread of white pine blister rust.