I have a 20+ foot tall American Elm tree. I believe it was unharmed yesterday. Today the bark was stripped almost entirely around the several-inch-wide trunk and in various places up to a height of something like 15 feet. The top-most branches that were stripped were only a bit bigger than a pencil (and high in the air), but the trunk at the ground has large, serious looking claw marks.

I don't see the patterning on the wood I would expect from porcupines, and it's hard to believe a squirrel would have done that much damage (or left such big claw marks). I live in a suburb outside of Denver. I've included some pictures.

[edit] Some additional information: It's a Frontier elm, so it's supposed to be resistant to Dutch elm disease. My neighbor says there's been a lot of raccoon activity lately, and my wife says she might have seen a raccoon or similarly sized gray animal near the tree that night. As far as I know, raccoons do not destroy trees like this though.

Any ideas?

Damaged American Elm Damaged American Elm Trunk

Damaged American Elm Branches

  • 2
    Any chance it was a lightning strike?
    – renesis
    Jul 5, 2020 at 13:47
  • I can't see how. There are no burn marks, we didn't hear any lightning, and the trunk has what appear to be claw marks on it.
    – beastin
    Jul 5, 2020 at 13:51
  • 1
    Those do look more like claw marks than dutch elm disease marks, but that upper branch photo is worrisome. It's time to take the tree down regardless. Jul 5, 2020 at 16:05
  • Deer will scrape bark off a trunk but not branches. Jan 25, 2021 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


We'll never know for sure, but our best guess is that the damage was caused by a family of raccoons. It turned out that we had a mother raccoon with half a dozen babies that liked that corner of the lot. We saw the whole bunch of them at 3am or so a few weeks later crawling over the fence and generally messing around in that corner. There was also a spot that something liked to defecate in repeatedly, which we've read is characteristic of raccoons. It's hard to imagine what they were doing that stripped the bark off. Playing? Trying to cross the fence? Maybe the mother was trying to get to some babies in the tree and couldn't get up the trunk? (The bark was pretty smooth and perhaps soft.)

  • In 1-2 days you will be able to accept your own answer. Jan 25, 2021 at 8:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.