Oak Wilt Threatens Old Growth Trees

(ESSEX, ON) – The Essex Region Conservation Authority will join in the active battle to protect local forests from the impacts of Oak Wilt, a serious vascular disease of Oak tree species.

“In our region Oak trees are a significant component to our Carolinian forests,” explained Rob Davies, ERCA’s Forester. “If Oak Wilt did become established here, all of our natural areas would be at risk of being negatively impacted. Many of these natural areas contain endangered habitats such as Pin and Black Oak Savanna, unique to all of Canada.”

As Oak trees take a long period to become established, they become a significant component to local forests, and offer a long list of ecological benefits to natural areas. Many of the Oak dominated stands throughout the county have been identified as ‘Old Growth’ and Oak Wilt has the potential to wipe out these stands forever.

As well, Essex Region is home to a significant Shumard Oak population, which is a ‘Species of Concern’, and these trees would be at risk of succumbing to this disease.

Reported first in Michigan back in the 1940s, Oak Wilt has spread throughout the eastern United States and, since 2009, Michigan State Parks alone have lost more than 500,000 trees while millions more have been destroyed throughout the state.

While it has not yet been found in Canada, in the fall of 2016 Oak Wilt was confirmed on Belle Isle State Park, just 600 metres from the shores of the city of Windsor. Michigan Department of Natural Resources has determined that Oak Wilt has killed more than 112 mature Oak trees on Belle Isle.

This devastating disease has negatively impacted 48 acres of the island’s 200 acres of forest. It is assumed that the Oak Wilt fungus came to Belle Isle through the movement of infected firewood.

ERCA will join Windsor, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and other partners to increase monitoring and awareness of this potentially devastating disease.

“Actions that can help protect our precious Oak trees include not pruning Oak species from April to August to prevent contact with picnic beetles, which spread the disease,” Davies said. “Not allowing movement of firewood is another key action, and ERCA will develop a plan to control and distribute firewood within its CA properties to minimize the risk of Oak wilt, along with other pests and disease, from entering our natural areas. ERCA staff will actively monitor for signs of Oak Wilt, which include sudden leave drop or colour change in the summer months.”

ERCA will help reach out to engage partners, landowners, and others to promote these best practices throughout the region.

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