State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced plans to manage the spread of the invasive species that causes oak wilt disease and confirmed that the 15 trees infected by oak wilt in New York during 2016 have been removed. DEC is continuing to monitor for additional infection sites in cooperation with state and local partners, including the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic (PDDC) at Cornell University, and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM).
“Without the support of the Department of Agriculture and Markets and Cornell University, these oak wilt infections may have gone unnoticed and the potential for spreading throughout New York State could have led to a significant loss of oak trees,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Continued collaboration with our state and local partners is critical to protecting our rural and community forests.”
DEC identified potential infection sites, collected samples, and submitted them to Cornell University for analysis. Cornell’s PDDC staff conducted tests to confirm or rule out the presence of oak wilt. The funding for this work was provided by DAM through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. PDDC will continue to test submitted samples throughout the 2017 growing season while working to streamline and testing procedures.
DEC is dedicating four additional staff to oak wilt this summer. Crews will monitor trees in the protective zones near infection centers and watch for oak wilt symptoms to track the spread of oak wilt in the areas where it was detected last year. DEC will also be conducting aerial surveys in July and September over the protective zones, in the lower Hudson Valley, and the Southern Tier to look for symptomatic trees. DEC staff will visit symptomatic trees detected in aerial surveys and by landowners to determine if a sample should be taken. DEC plans to take 200 oak wilt samples this year, which will be sent to Cornell for processing. DEC is also working with partners to plan a public oak wilt symposium for this fall.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “We are pleased to support our partners at DEC and Cornell University and their continued efforts to identify and monitor for oak wilt in our trees. Working together, we can better manage these types of threats to our natural resources. I encourage the public to also be proactive in helping us watch for and report any signs of oak wilt.”
Governor Cuomo increased funding for invasive species control to $12 million from the Environmental Protection Fund in the 2017-18 State Budget, including a $2 million grant program for communities and groups across New York.
Invasive species are detrimental because of their ability to reproduce quickly, outcompete native species, and adapt to new environments. Because invasive species did not evolve with the other species in their new location, they often do not have natural predators and diseases that would normally control their population within their native habitat. Economists estimate that invasive species cost the United States more than $120 billion in damages every year.
Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "We are grateful for these ongoing efforts by the state departments of Agriculture and Environmental Conservation, in partnership with Cornell University, to protect New York State's oak trees and the overall health and vitality of our forests."
New York State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steve Englebright said, “Thanks to the DEC and its state and local partners for their comprehensive response to the occurrence of oak wilt disease in New York State. Through monitoring, identification, evaluation and removal, the DEC has been a proactive leader in the management of this immense threat to our state’s oak resources. Oak wilt monitoring and management is a true group effort with the invaluable assistance of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Cornell University, local and city governments, arbor professionals and even our state’s citizens who are asked to report trees that suddenly lose their leaves during the summer months.”
Joseph Charap, Director of Horticulture at Green-Wood Cemetery and his staff worked with DEC to monitor for additional signs of oak wilt after the disease was confirmed on the property last July. In January, cemetery staff removed and chipped the one infected tree detected. Charap worked with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s (NYC Parks) to host workshops that educated tree care professionals on recognizing the signs of oak wilt and employing practices to prevent the spread of the disease.
“We are proud to collaborate with DEC and NYC Parks to lead the way in fighting oak wilt in Brooklyn,” said Charap. “We will continue to monitor our trees and remove any infected trees in the cemetery to help prevent further spread of this disease.”
NYC Parks is responsible for thousands of oak trees in Brooklyn and will play a leading role in monitoring for oak wilt. In addition, NYC Parks will also provide outreach materials to city parks to inform visitors about the disease. DEC is working with PDDC to train NYC Parks staff as an official oak wilt sample collector and assist DEC with field operations this year.
In January 2017, DEC regional staff dug a trench and installed a root graft barrier to prevent the spread of oak wilt through the infected tree’s roots to other oaks. In March 2017, DEC contractors removed an infected tree and seven at-risk oaks close enough that their roots may have already been grafted.
The Town of Southold met with DEC in January 2017, to discuss options for oak wilt management. After determining a course of action, the Southold Highway Department removed and disposed of an infected tree. Trenching and root graft barriers were not used because multiple infections were found in Suffolk County and additional information is needed to determine whether these activities will be effective. Instead, the stump of the infected tree was treated with herbicide to prevent further spread of the disease through root grafts.
“The removal of the oak wilt infected tree was made easy through coordination with DEC,” said Vincent Orlando, Southold Highway Superintendent. “DEC met with our staff to make sure we understood how to remove and dispose of the infected tree properly and safely.”
In Riverhead, Wildwood State Park removed an infected tree in February. The wood from the infected tree was covered with plastic and will remain covered for one year to prevent further spread by insects. The stump of the infected tree was also treated with herbicide.
In West and Central Islip, DEC contractors removed the 11 infected trees detected last summer. The town hosted a meeting on behalf of DEC regarding the status of oak wilt in Islip last October, and has continued to educate staff and residents about the disease.
Jim Heil, Commissioner of the Town of Islip’s Environmental Conservation Department said, “Town of Islip officials have been cooperating with DEC on this issue. During the fall season, we conducted a separate collection of contaminated branches and twigs for disposal at the Town’s Waste-to-Energy facility, in order to prevent the spread of oak wilt. The Town will continue to assist DEC in containing the spread of the disease.”
Oak wilt is a serious tree disease in the eastern United States, killing thousands of oaks each year in forests, woodlots, and home landscapes. Oak wilt is caused by a fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum, which grows in the water conducting vessels of host trees, plugging up these vessels and preventing water transport. As water movement within the tree is slowed, the leaves wilt and drop off.
DEC is encouraging the public to be on the lookout this summer for oak trees that suddenly lose all or most of their leaves during the months of July or August. These occurrences should be reported to DEC’s Forest Health Information Line toll-free at 1-866-640-0652, or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. Submitting pictures of oaks showing symptoms of oak wilt is highly encouraged.
For more information about oak wilt or the emergency orders, visit DEC’s website.