COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the United States, and it has been known to kill oak trees in Central Texas at epidemic proportions. Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans, hunters in particular, to take preventative measures and be cautious when collecting and purchasing firewood at this time of year to stop the spread of oak wilt.
“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. “Hunters at ranches need to leave the wood there. Do not take it back home and be the one to start a new oak wilt infection center.”
Transporting and storing diseased wood spreads devastating oak wilt fungus spores to previously uninfected neighborhoods. Hunters should be careful not to transport wood off of ranch land, especially west of IH 35.
By following these preventative steps, citizens can 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. Burying the edges of the plastic will prevent the entry or exit of insects that might have been attracted to diseased wood and fungal mats.
- Destroy diseased red oaks. A knowledgeable arborist or forester should diagnose red oaks (i.e., Texas red, blackjack or shumard oak) that die rapidly (2-3 weeks) or in groups (2 or more trees over several years) for oak wilt. Trees suspected to have died recently from oak wilt 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 and take care not to burn on windy days with low humidity.
- Avoid wounding oaks during vulnerable seasons. The general recommendation is to avoid injuries to oaks from February through June. The best times to prune oaks are during the heat of the summer (minimal spore production) or the cold of winter (minimal insect activity).
- Paint all oak wounds including pruning cuts. Throughout the year, immediately apply a thin coat of latex or pruning paint to all fresh wounds and other injuries that expose the inner bark or sapwood of oaks. This prevents contaminated sap beetles from infecting the wound with oak wilt spores.
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 prevent a new oak wilt disease outbreak in their neighborhood.