Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sudden Oak Death is Spreading into our National Parks

One of my clients, Dave Deppen, tipped me off to this article a few days ago. For those of you folks out there who haven't yet heard about Sudden Oak Death (SODs), this is a good place to start learning.
Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,000-acre preserve on a peninsula that juts out from the San Andreas fault, the western-most tip of the lower 48 states. This spot is a favorite destination for whale watchers, bird lovers, and hikers. Unfortunately, these same visitors are inadvertently spreading a deadly fungal disease into pristine oak forests, on the bottoms of their shoes. So far the park has seen a 75% mortality rate in tan oak forests, the most susceptible to SODs. Park officials warn that the loss of these oaks has far reaching effects, from reduced habitat for animals to increased fire risk. One solution is to close the park during wet winter months when the disease is most likely to spread, according to researchers.
Sudden oak death was first discovered in Mill Valley in 1995, reportedly through infected nursery stock from Europe. SODs is a fungus that oaks of Europe are resistant to, but the genetics of our American live oaks are of a different enough lineage that it has proven fatal. Since its discovery, the disease has spread to 14 California counties, a few in Oregon and California, and cases have been reported in other states as far as the midwest. As of yet there is no known cure for the disease.
There are simple things we can all do to help prevent the spread of SODs, most importantly by not introducing it on our hikes. Shoes, tools, tires, and anything else that come into contact with the soil can and should be disinfected before travelling to a new place. Being careful not to transport infected wood is important. Also, being sure to buy plants from reputable nurseries that have passed inspection can prevent you from bringing it home to your own garden. Remember, plant material and soil are vectors for the disease, and there are many carriers of the disease, including a long list of native plants.

For starters, check out the Marin IJ article here
Then, if you'd like to know more, go to the Wikipedia site, with photos and links to more sites, including host plant lists and maps.

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