Oak Wilt threat grows as temperatures cool down

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ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The spreading potential of the oak-plaguing fungus is rising as Big Country residents begin to stockpile firewood for the coming cold-weather seasons.

The disease targets all oak trees and spreads to new locations when spores from fungal mats (grown underneath the bark of Red Oak trees) is transferred to other oaks. This can be done through wood-to-wood contact or when sap-feeding beetles move from an infected tree to the open wound of a neighboring tree.

Oak trees, such as Live Oaks, also spread the disease to neighbors through their complex system of underground roots.

“[Oak Wilt] essentially makes the tree kill itself. The tree realizes it’s there goes into maximum overdrive and blocks up its own vascular system,” says Bruce Kreitler a master arborist and owner of Broken Willow Tree Service.

The disease was once nonexistent in the Big Country and, according to Kreitler, was likely brought to the area by an ignorant party.

“It was just in two neighborhoods in isolated spots here in Abilene but that’s no longer true. There are large neighborhoods now that have multiple Oak Wilt centers in them,” said Kreitler.

One of the affected neighborhoods is Fairway Oaks, an area known for its tall, lush variety of shade trees. Tim Simpson lives in this neighborhood and says it was roughly two years ago when his neighbors just across the street lost two trees in their front yards to fungus.

“To my knowledge everyone started treating their trees immediately after that,” said Simpson.

Since then Simpson, like many of his neighbors, has been treating his oaks yearly to save the towering shade-makers from succumbing to the fungus.

“You can’t say goodbye to them. They’re like a dog or anything else. When they’re sick you got to help them or prevent illness,” said Simpson.

Prevention, according to Kreitler, is key to avoiding a full blown Oak Wilt epidemic. Residents should monitor their trees regularly for abnormalities and avoid bringing wood from unknown sources onto their properties.

“Paint wounds when you can, sterilize your equipment before cutting different trees. Just be careful about what you’re doing,” said Kreitler.

For more information on preventing Oak Wilt visit this link from the Texas A&M Forest Service’s website.

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