DEC warns residents to watch out for oak wilt

It can be referred to as a heart attack for a tree, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is asking people to be vigilant.

Last year, oak wilt — a fast-acting disease that can cause mortality in red oaks in as little as two weeks — infected a handful of trees in Canandaigua. Since the oak wilt fungus can dwell in firewood and can transmit its spores through nitidulid beetles, the disease can travel long distances, which is why people should keep an eye on their oaks, according to oak wilt survey interns Robert Hurd and Caleb Kime out of the DEC’s Region 8 in Avon.

“The landowner (in Canandaigua) had pruned her trees recently … and one of the neighbors had brought up infected firewood, we’re assuming, from around the (western) Pennsylvania area, where it is more prevalent,” Hurd explained during a phone interview with the OBSERVER. “We’re really … warning people not to prune their oaks in the summer months when all your insects are out and the fungus is spreading a bit more. If you’re going to prune your trees, generally we try to have people do it between November and February, when everything has quieted down, so you don’t have those beetles flying around.”

Hurd and Kime are working to spread the word about oak wilt in hopes of remediating and eliminating any possible infection in New York state. Earlier this month, Hurd reached out to town of Pomfret officials to alert them to the potential for oak wilt in the area.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the ball before it starts going too fast,” he stated.

Symptoms of oak wilt primarily involve the discoloration of leaves, starting at the top of the leaf and moving its way down. The bronzing of the leaf is quite distinct, with a sharp line usually separating the discoloration with the healthy green color.

The disease restricts the flow of water and nutrients to the tree, thus causing it to wilt. While red oaks succumb quickly, white oaks have a stronger system to fight the infection. Infected white oaks can last anywhere from four to 12 years.

The best way to prevent oak wilt is to avoid pruning trees, as pruning weakens them.

“It creates kind of an entry wound or an infection area for pathogens,” Kime noted. “And don’t move firewood … especially not across state borders.”

If a dead or hanging limb must be removed, Hurd recommended using wound covers, which can be as cheap as using spray paint.

Protective fungicides can also help, but Kime advised using them only if there is a known infection in the vicinity of a tree, as the chemicals are expensive.

Anyone who notices what they believe to be oak wilt is asked to call either the DEC Forest Health Hotline at 1-866-640-0652 or a forester in their DEC region.

To learn more about oak wilt, go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/46919.html.

Email: gfox@observertoday.com. Twitter: @gfoxnews


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