If you head to Northern Michigan this summer, you might see some disturbing landscapes across the shoreline and in other spots across the state: clear-cutting. In most cases, it’s not because a shopping development or a subdivision is about to be constructed. It’s because of a fast-moving and deadly fungus that takes aim at Oak trees and can kill them in less than four weeks. And the only solution to stop the spread of the disease is to kill the trees it infects.
It’s called “Oak wilt” disease. Great Lakes Now talked with Jenna Johnson who’s a forest technician with AmeriCorps at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Cadillac. She says Oak wilt was first discovered in Great Lakes states in the 1940’s. It has caused major damage in Midwestern States like Minnesota but has only recently made its way into Michigan. She says Roscommon, the Gaylord area, Missaukee County, and Kalkaska County are being particularly hard-hit right now.
Johnson says, “Oak wilt is a vascular disease. It makes the tree unable to absorb water. It starves the tree to death.” She says the tree starts to die the minute it’s infected, and starts dropping all its leaves. She says it strikes Red oaks, Pin oaks and some White oaks. It’s spread by sap-feeding beetles that take aim at freshly wounded trees. And once one Oak tree is infected, all other Oak trees in the area are in danger of being infected.
She says if the tree isn’t cut down and removed from the area – right into the roots- followed by what’s called “vibratory plowing” down at least 5 feet into the ground to destroy the fungus – Oak wilt could sweep across the state. The DNR says if Oak wilt isn’t stopped by cutting down infected trees, it could continue to spread, possibly killing almost all the Red oaks in Michigan.
At least 21 states are dealing with the disease, but the majority of Oak wilt cases are being discovered in the Midwest.
The DNR says Oak wilt isn’t just spread through live trees. It’s also spread by firewood that still has its bark. That’s why the DNR wants to get the word out this summer that no one should cut any kind of Oak trees – including power companies – from April 15th to July 15th, and there’s a ban on cutting Oak trees for firewood during this time, too. Bill O’Neill, State Forester of Michigan and Chief of the Forestry Division of the DNR tells Great Lakes Now if you are gathering or buying firewood, “use and buy your firewood locally – get it from the vicinity where you’re going to be using it.”
For more information go to http://www.michigan.gov/dnr.