DEVASTATING PLANT DISEASE THREATENS BROOKINGS

August 29, 2001 12:00 am

See related web site link(s) at the end of the story:

Sudden Oak Death fungal disease has been discovered in four spots northeast of Brookings, and the quarantine area extends nearly to Azalea Park.

Don Mitchell, of Flora Pacifica in Harbor, attended a meeting last week on the disease with representatives from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service.

He said signs will be placed in the quarantine area in several languages asking that no products, like mushrooms or nursery stock, be taken out.

Other quarantined products include logs, lumber, bark chips, mulch, firewood and sawdust. Quarantine violators can be fined from $500 to $5,000.

The quarantine area encompasses the Marina Heights, Ferry Creek Heights and Mountain Drive residential areas and extends about 10 miles north.

Mitchell said flights over the area showed four spots of infection, the closest one to Brookings being on Joe Hall Creek not far from the Chetco River.

Thats not encouraging news, said Mitchell, because the fungus is believed to be spread by water, but no one is sure how.

He said insects and birds are suspected in transporting the fungus, as is fog. In California, the disease has never been found more than 17 miles inland.

What is even more puzzling, said Mitchell, is how it got to Brookings.

It was discovered in Mill Valley, Calif., in 1995 and has spread throughout Bay Area counties. Then, somehow, it made the leap to Curry County.

Mitchell said the infected trees near Brookings were discovered by air in early August. He said it appeared the disease had not been in the area for more than two years.

In California, the disease killed tanoaks, black oaks, coastal live oaks, Shreves oaks and evergreen huckleberries.

According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, it can also infect California buckeye, Oregon myrtle, Pacific madrone, rhododendron, azaleas and viburnum. It will cause branch tip dieback and leaf spots on those species.

Symptoms to look for on diseased trees include sap bleeding onto the bark surface, sunken cankers beneath the bleeding, and a distinct dark canker margin in the bark and cambium. Dust from boring beetles is a secondary symptom.

The cankers and bleeding are above ground, usually within 3 to 15 feet of the soil line. Trees may be infected with the disease for a year or more before the leaves suddenly change from green to brown.

The fungus causes stem lesions and dieback on evergreen huckleberry so severe that the canes can be killed down to the soil line.

Those who discover a plant that may be suffering from Sudden Oak Death are asked to call the agriculture department at (866) INVADER, or (503) 986-4636. To view pictures of infected plants go to the departments Web site at http://www.oda.state.or.us/Information/news/sod_news.html

Those visiting diseased areas are advised to wash their vehicles, including mountain bikes, and shoes before traveling to disease-free areas.

Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont said she spoke with Chuck Craig of the agriculture department last week and was told the infestation was centered around Ferry Creek on South Coast Lumber and Bureau of Land Management land.

She said the agencies are planning to fight the outbreak aggressively. The commissioners will address the problem at 10:15 today (Aug. 29) at a workshop in the commissioners hearing room in the courthouse annex.

Mitchell, who feared the disease could impact his business, was happy that Oregon agencies would try to eradicate the disease. He said California has settled for quarantines in affected areas.

Mitchell wasnt sure the disease could be wiped out, however. He said it has proven impossible so far to eradicate the fungal Port Orford Cedar Root Disease from Curry County.

Unlike that disease, Sudden Oak Death infects the stems and trunks of plants, not the roots.

Were very much concerned, said Mitchell. He said myrtles, which Flora Pacifica uses in Christmas wreaths, can host the disease. He said people are out picking huckleberries now, and that plant is another host.