I have been noticing around the valley that several orchards have been removing pear trees and burning them. Can you provide information as to why? Are they replanting them, or are they moving to grapes? Is there some other reason?

I have been noticing around the valley that several orchards have been removing pear trees and burning them. Can you provide information as to why? Are they replanting them, or are they moving to grapes? Is there some other reason?

— Tony Z., Medford

Local orchardists over the past few decades have torn up their trees for many reasons, including the trees' age, profitability (or unprofitability) of pears and plans to develop the land. More often than not, pear trees haven't been replanted.

Typically, the uprooted trees are chipped, said Phil VanBuskirk, administrator of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. The stumps and root balls, however, often are burned because they harbor rocks and other debris that could foul chipping equipment, VanBuskirk added.

Although you don't give a location for the orchards, VanBuskirk said he knows of just two — both near South Stage Road — that are being removed. In both cases, the owners lost a buyer for their pears when the Southern Oregon Sales cooperative dissolved last year.

The county's "abandoned orchard" ordinance prohibits landowners from leaving their orchards untended, VanBuskirk said. Failing to spray for pests and diseases affects the health of other local orchards, he added. So to avoid the cost of tending unprofitable trees, landowners elect to remove them.

In the case of one parcel VanBuskirk cited, owned by KOGAP Enterprises Inc., zoning requirements limit options, so the property's future remains in the air, according to a Mail Tribune story published earlier this month. Owners said they considered planting grapes, olives or a tree farm that would grow poplars for pulp mills. But the owners say they will wait at least a year before moving forward with any new plans.

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