California's drought slows sudden oak death scourge

Land owners and forest managers now have a window to get ahead of the disease

Drought actually helps prevent death in oak trees

BIG SUR, Calif. - The pathogen that causes the tree disease known as sudden oak death to spread likes water. But with the current drought, sudden oak death has slowed. No one likes the effects of a drought, but for our thriving and necessary oak population on the Central Coast experts say now is the time to take action to save the mighty oak trees.

Ecologist Kerri Frangioso says of sudden oak death, "It's a huge problem we've lost over a million trees in California already." The disease is not native to California says Frangioso, "It's a non-native pathogen that was introduced through the nursery trade."

And it's spreading in a very unique way through moisture. So this year's continued drought in California is actually helping.

Land owners are taking advantage of the dryness to get ahead of the spread of the sudden oak death pathogen.

Butch Kronlund is President of Coastlands Water Company is working to trim the bottom of many Bay Laurel trees that can be a host for the pathogen. "We're going to trim them up to allow wind to pass through and keep them dry on the interior. That's where the pathogen likes to live in the moist environment."

He says the drought is helping on one hand by allowing land owners time to trim the lower limbs that give sudden oak death a place to take hold. But on the other hand, no one likes the effects of a drought in general.

Trimming lower limbs on host Bay trees is one avenue to stop the spread of sudden oak death. Frangioso says it changes the habit around the trees so the pathogen doesn't spread. "Because there are so few trees that harbor the pathogen, in a year like this, if you can take out those trees you can drastically reduce the pathogen population," says Frangioso.

And that's what they're doing in Big Sur, the last thing land owners want to see is more dead trees that provide fuel for wild fires.

Says Kronlund, "What we want to do is cut down on the spread of the pathogen and by reducing the pathogen caring host Bay trees, it may devalue our properties, but more importantly cuts down on a fire danger."

What's more scary about sudden oak death is that it's only been found in 15% of the forests so far. So the potential to do more damage and create dead woodlands and fuel for fires remains very high.

It's important to note that not all Bay Laurel trees are hosts for the pathogen that causes sudden oak death.

Scientists are mapping forest for sudden oak death and land owners are taking part in sudden oak death blitzes to voluntarily monitor their trees and test their Bay Laurel trees for the pathogen. Some of those Bay trees will be cut out, some may just be trimmed. The blitzes give them the information they need to know on how to clear the land and trim trees to make it harder for the disease to either get a foot hold or spread.

The key is staying on top of the situation and do the necessary work to protect your trees on your property.

And as the dry conditions remain, now is the time.

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