Date of Award

Summer 7-16-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Bendix, Jacob


Dutch elm disease, HGIS, Pest control, Quarantine, Syracuse, NY, urban forest

Subject Categories



In this dissertation, I analyze the failure of the United States to address the Dutch elm disease (Ophiostoma ulmi) epidemic that affected American elm (Ulmus americana) across the country. The disease, a fungus carried by beetles between trees, was introduced in 1930 in New York City and slowly spread across the Northeast United States and beyond. A federal program to save the elm trees was in place from 1930-1952. I use archival documents to create a narrative describing the management of the disease by the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, the division of the United States Department of Agriculture tasked with controlling the fungus and its vectors. The dissertation is organized into three body chapters, each representing a manuscript prepared for publication in various journals. The first body chapter addresses the issues of quarantine, both international to prevent the import of the fungus and domestic to prevent its spread after its arrival. This chapter relies heavily on Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS), a method which incorporates archival materials into modern mapmaking software. The second chapter addresses the difficulties encountered in controlling the spread of the fungus. I trace the different methods studied and used to reduce the number of infected trees. In both of these chapters, I examine the failures of the Bureau to accomplish their goal of saving the elms and highlight the key role officials played in creating a management program that was doomed to fail by focusing on total elimination of the disease as opposed to containment and control. In the third chapter, I use Syracuse, NY as a case study to analyze the management of Dutch elm disease after the federal program run by the Bureau was eliminated. In this chapter, I emphasize the role of private property as a biogeographical unit by using the lens of the commons and demonstrating its important role in the failure to contain the fungus within the city. I conclude the dissertation with a chapter summarizing the timeline of events and major conclusions of each chapter while providing additional arguments of the importance of this work for urban foresters, biogeographers and environmental historians.


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