The Texas A&M Forest Service is urging Texans to help prevent the spread of oak wilt by minimizing the transportation of firewood this winter.
Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the U.S. and has been blamed for epidemic proportions of tree kills in Central Texas. Because the disease primarily spread by moving firewood from one region to another, the forest service asks residents to be cautious when collecting and purchasing firewood this time of year.
“It is critical to take the responsibility of acquiring, managing, and storing firewood at your residence seriously,” said Jim Houser, Texas A&M Forest Service regional forest health coordinator, Austin. “Hunters at ranches need to leave the wood there. Do not take it back home and potentially start a new oak wilt infection center.”
House said people should be especially careful not to transport wood off of ranchland west of Interstate 35.
Oak wilt fungus spreads in two ways: above ground and below ground. A sap-feeding beetle carries the fungal spores to new trees above ground, while fungus travels from tree to tree underground through interconnected roots.
Transporting and storing diseased wood spreads devastating oak wilt fungus spores to previously uninfected areas. Because live oaks tend to grow in large, dense stands, oak wilt spreads quickly and one infected tree can lead to large patches of dead and dying trees.
By following these steps, Texas residents can help stop the spread of oak wilt fungus:
- Select well-seasoned firewood. Well-seasoned wood is cut before the summer and is typically dry with loose bark and cracked ends. Avoid oak wood that appears unseasoned, which may have tight bark and cut ends which show no cracks or signs of aging. The extreme heat and dry conditions of a full Texas summer effectively destroy the fungus in cut firewood.
- Safely store unknown sources of firewood under plastic. If oak wood comes from an unknown source and it is not well seasoned, cover the woodpile with a clear piece of plastic. Also, bury the edges of the plastic to prevent the entry or exit of insects that might have been attracted to diseased wood and fungal mats.
- Destroy diseased red oaks. Have an arborist or forester inspect your red oak trees for oak wilt if your Texas red, blackjack or shumard oaks have died rapidly in groups of two or more. If the trees are diagnosed as having oak wilt, they should be destroyed by burning, burying or chipping. The heat of a fire destroys the fungus and the smoke emitted poses no threat to healthy trees. When planning to do any outdoor burning, be sure to check with local officials to see if an outdoor burning ban is in place for your county. Take care not to burn on windy days with low humidity.
Oak firewood is an important commodity to Texans, whether it’s used for firing up the barbecue pit or warming up the home on a cold winter’s day. By selecting well-seasoned, disease-free firewood and by following the disease prevention guidelines, Texans are taking the correct steps to help prevent a new oak wilt disease outbreak in their region.