Landowner deals with devastating tree disease

By ANGELIA JOINER Staff Writer

Donald Wood has dying trees.

He owns 158 acres of land in southern Erath County and some of his live oak trees have been hit with a disease known as “Oak Wilt.” His property has large groves of the trees and he’s wondering how many will be left at this same time next year.

Wood said the disease hit last year and believes it traveled from his neighbor’s place across the road. He feels the county may be responsible for the spread of the disease due to trimming along the roads without using proper disease prevention practices.

Wood said he’s no “tree hugger” but his trees are worth hugging. “These trees are worth money to me,” Wood said.

Oak wilt is a lethal disease for oaks, Wood said. It interferes with the vascular system of the tree and prevents it from absorbing water.

Cutting limbs without sealing the wound attracts the nitidulid beetle that carries the fungus that causes oak wilt on its body. The beetle is after the sap oozing from the open area, and in live oaks, it only has to hit one tree in the grove to destroy the whole group. The disease will travel through the root system and doesn’t’ stop until it runs out of trees to attack, Wood said.

An infected tree can be treated with Alamo fungicide by drilling holes in the base of the tree and injecting it, Wood said, but it is expensive and must be reapplied in two years. Wood said in order to treat his trees he would have to spend $800 to $1200 per tree depending on the size.

Trenching around the trees through the root system helps to prevent the spread by cutting the propagating root system off from other trees but does nothing for the trees inside the trench Wood said. They are doomed.

He bought the land on County Road 252 in 1995 and says he has repeatedly asked the county not to trim live oaks by the road between January and July when the beetle that carries the fungus on its body is most active.

On Friday, June 15, he saw a new county employee trimming up the brush and trees. He asked him to cut everything except the live oaks and left. When he returned he was not happy with what he found. His live oaks had been cut and he said on the other side of the road the trees were “really mangled.” No disease prevention was used.

Wood said he knows enough to know the difference between “oak decline” and “oak wilt.” He said a few dead branches here and there is oak decline and not a problem. Oak wilt can take a perfectly green tree and every leaf will turn brown - some within six weeks - and then the tree will die, he said.

“I’m not saying they are causing the disease,” Wood said. “I am saying they are contributing to it. I get the feeling the county has a total disregard for the disease.”

Jerry Martin is the commissioner for Wood’s area and said he is aware of Wood’s feelings on cutting the trees and can empathize with the situation.

“I have lost trees on my own property - it makes me sick,” Martin said. “It’s awful to drive around the country and see these beautiful big live oaks dead.”

Martin said his employee was instructed to trim on the other side of the road from Wood’s place. Martin said it was his understanding that Wood asked the employee to trim above his fencerow, then while the employee was complying with the request Wood came back and asked for the live oaks not to be pruned. When the employee began working all the limbs were mixed in with other types of trees and there was no way to avoid the live oak, Martin said.

Martin said he has 200 miles of roads to take care of which means 400 miles of cutting and trimming for both sides of the road. He said he can’t even get to all of it in year’s time.

He said he has offered all he knows to please Wood including pushing his fencerow back along with the trees at the county’s expense so the conflict over tree trimming could be avoided.

He said he has talked with Wood on several occasions and encouraged him to trim the trees himself before they get to a point that the county must prune them in order to avoid problems for travelers on the road.

Wood said he is going to push the fence back but prefers to do it himself.

Martin said he feels information on the disease is muddled as to what is acceptable and what is not.

“I’ve been reading articles about this for 10 years,” Martin said.

He said he waited as long as he could this year to begin trimming but had begun receiving calls about damaged vehicles.