Sick Trees

April 29, 2008

We all know that Sudden Oak Death (SOD) is a devastating disease that has killed more than a million oak trees in California. It causes cankers to appear on the trunk and kills foliage, often leading to the death of the tree. The disease, which spreads by spores, is present in San Mateo County and has been detected in Woodside.

Scientists at UC Berkeley through genetic testing have shown that the SOD plague in California started in Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County and a site near Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. Although the disease was first reported in California in 1995, scientists now believe that it came here from Asia in the middle of the 1980s. It now appears that infected plants were imported to a nursery in the Scotts Valley area, and from there, were sold all over the region. The disease affects more than a dozen species of plants besides oaks, but doesn’t kill all of them. This ability to ‘fly under the radar’ probably helped the disease spread all around the region.

Sudden Oak Death is fatal to coast live oak, black oak, and tanbark oak trees, killing the trees by destroying cell walls and preventing nutrients from properly nourishing the tree. SOD is related to the organisms that caused the potato blight in Ireland in the 1800s and other well-known and devastating plant diseases. There is no cure for the disease – only good management practices can help slow its spread. The spore can be blown by the wind up to 3 miles, although normally it will only go about 200 or 300 yards – so care needs to be taken by hikers, bikers, and equestrians to not spread the disease further. Making sure you and your animals and equipment don’t carry back dirt, especially mud, from areas which could be infected, will help stop the spread of SOD.

The Town has been aware for some time now, that this abominaBULL condition is affecting our wooded Town, county, and the state as a whole. The Town, along with the California Oak Mortality Task Force (COMTF); and San Mateo County officials, has hosted meetings at Town Hall, and the Town has pamphlets with information available at Town Hall. While this is a good start, the Town needs to keep up and increase its efforts, with mailers to residents about good management practices and other solutions.

What would our Town look like without any oak trees? Let’s all hope we never find out.

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