Save Our Oak Trees This Season

May 15, 2018
Eric Stone
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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Save Our Oak Trees This Season
Oak Wilt. Photo by Fred Baker Utah State University Bugwood

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Who doesn’t love oak trees? Protect our oaks from a new disease threatening the trees in our region.

Deer, bears, and turkeys all fatten up for winter on their nutrient-dense nuts, while squirrels have the added bonus of using their branches for shelter. Humans have an affinity for these trees, too. With their spreading canopies and majestic trunks, oaks inspire awe and wonder in their old age.

Unfortunately, a new disease threatens our oak trees. Oak wilt, caused by a fungus that blocks the flow of water and nutrients through the tree, causes the leaves to fall off and ultimately kills the tree. It can affect all species of oaks, although red oaks (those with pointed leaf tips) are more susceptible than white oaks (those with rounded leaf tips). The fungus moves from tree to tree via sap-eating beetles. These beetles are active throughout the spring and summer and are attracted to new cuts in the bark and branches—exactly the kind of cuts made by a pair of pruning shears.

You can help prevent the spread of oak wilt. If you need to prune trees, either in your yard or on the trail, please do so in the winter or fall, when the fungus and beetles aren’t as active. If you must cut a live oak branch during other times, please make sure to paint a wound-sealing compound onto the cut to prevent the beetles from feeding on the tree.

It is absolutely possible to stop the spread of this disease. Although widespread in the Midwest, in New York, oak wilt has so far been found only in Brooklyn and Suffolk, Schoharie, and Ontario counties. No infestations are currently known in New Jersey. Trail maintainers and homeowners near known infested areas should be especially careful to follow the preventive measures outlined above.

Join the Fight

You can help protect our parks and wild lands. The Trail Conference provides several ways to join the fight: from surveying trails for invasive plants, to removing invasives along our trails, to checking for insect pests, to monitoring rare and endangered plants. To get involved, send an email to [email protected] with the subject “Join the Fight,” and we’ll connect you with opportunities to make a difference this season.

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