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      Trees, bushes devastated by hungry rabbits

      Trees and bushes took a beating with this winter's record amount of snowfall weighing them down, but the damage doesn't stop there.

      Hungry animals destroyed plants.

      Many people were shocked by what they found when the snow melted away.

      â??I never thought that that would happen,â?? said Penny Korb of Traverse City. â??I figured it was safe being under all that snow. I knew that I had rabbits because you could see the tracks all the time, but this was really different this year.â??

      As the snow melted away, the damage left behind by rabbits and mice became visible, surprising even the experts.

      â??I've lived here for 24 years, definitely the worst rabbit injury in that time,â?? said Duke Elsner, Small Fruit Educator with the MSU Extension. â??Either from mice way below the snow at the ground line, or from rabbits who were able to get above the guards that people would have in place. The typical guards were just not high enough. So rabbits got to things this year.â??

      Older trees are hardier and should be able to withstand the damage, but the younger trees were tempting for hungry critters.

      â??It will really impact the young trees, so things that were going to be coming into bearing the next two or three years were the ones that were really damaged,â?? said Elsner.

      Trees or bushes with girdling damage, where the bark is removed from around the entire stem, likely wonâ??t survive because the bark transports nutrients to the entire plant.

      â??You have all this exposure to bare wood. It's not going to do anything. It pretty much killed it,â?? said Korb.

      There could be substantial damage to commercial fruit crops. Some growers may have to replant. Others may try bridge grafting to restore the bark.

      â??It's extremely difficult and even very experienced people only get a small percentage of success on that. I'm going to be putting taller guards on all of my trees and shrubs next year,â?? said Elsner.

      â??You just start over, just tear it out and start over. That's the nice thing about plants: they re-grow,â?? said Korb.

      Korb is going to replant, but she plans on sticking to things that aren't so susceptible to animal damage.

      The extreme cold also wreaked havoc on trees and bushes. Many conifers are showing signs of winter damage. The long-term impact depends on whether the buds were affected.