U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley announced last week that more than $466,000 has been distributed to Oregon organizations and agencies to end the spread of Sudden Oak Death (SOD).

SOD and its European strain, called EU1, pose severe economic and environmental threats to counties in Southern Oregon. The area around Brookings is considered “generally infested,” and not treated as aggressively; the quarantine area is gradually spreading north and east.

If the quarantine area were to encompass the entire county — and it already has about a third of it within its grasp — it is likely other counties, states and nations would not want to take any agricultural products from here lest the SOD pathogen travel with it, said state Rep. David Brock Smith.

Sudden Oak Death, caused by the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, has killed hundreds of thousands of tanoak trees in Curry County. It was first discovered here in 2001; about one-third of the county has since been affected.

Smith is on the governor’s task force addressing the issue and long fought to find a way to stop SOD when he served as a Curry County Commissioner.

More than $196,400 secured by Merkley will be used to conduct a genetic analysis of SOD to evaluate the threat of the disease spreading from forests to nurseries — the state’s two largest industries — $143,303 to educate the public to reduce the risk of further spread, and $126,470 to beef up mitigation responses to the European strain that has been detected in other parts of the state.

“To effectively manage the threat of Phytophthora ramorum to the forests and nurseries of Oregon, we must understand how this invasive disease spreads,” said Jared LeBoldus, assistant professor of forest pathology at Oregon State University. “This new funding will bring us one step closer to achieving this goal.”

Another concern is how the SOD might affect trees re-emerging after the Chetco Bar Fire last summer. U.S. Forest Service officials have noted tanoak is already starting to regrow in the fire’s 191,125-acre burn scar, and it is unknown if the fire killed the pathogen’s spores.

Merkley and Smith agree there is much work to be done to prevent its spread.

“Partners from broad swath of governments and industries have been working together to address this crisis, and these resources provide urgently needed support to these efforts,” Merkley said. “I will continue to use my seat on the (Senate Agriculture) appropriations committee to fight for the resources our task force needs to work on more and better solutions to fight these pathogens.”

Smith said he was grateful to have Merkley’s support on the task force.

“This federal funding, along with the $1.7 million received from the state is critical to eradicate the EU1 strain and manage the deadly pathogen,” he said.

The task force is developing a plan to include local, state and federal governments, local tribes and industry associations: Association of Oregon Counties, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Health, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, Coquille Indian Tribe, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Forest Industry Council, Oregon State University, the cities of Brookings and Gold Beach, Oregon Association of Nurseries and Curry, Josephine and Douglas counties.

So far in Oregon, SOD has only been detected in the forests of southwest Curry County, where a containment program is in place to try to slow its spread. Much of that involves capturing SOD spores in rivers and tracing them back upstream to the infested trees. Those trees and many around them are then chopped down and treated.

Yet, SOD continues to spread, on high winds and in water.

“If further measures aren’t taken, it could spread north into Coos County and west into Josephine County in coming years,” Merkley said. “In California, the disease has killed millions of oaks and tanoaks in the coastal region from Monterey to Humboldt counties.”

Funding will also help private landowners, many of whom are trying to battle SOD on their property, learn how to detect the disease earlier.

“A quick response is critical to fight the disease,” said Sarah Navarro, a forest pathologist with the state Department of Forestry. “We will host workshops with Oregon State University to train new citizen scientists about how to recognize SOD and offer treatment options for newly infested areas. This will help the community combat SOD.”

Reach Jane Stebbins at jstebbins@currypilot.com .

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