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- Established in 1981 -Stewardship, Conservation, & Care

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My experience with oak wilt

Oak Wilt reared its ugly nature a few years after starting Trees Unlimited my tree care service company. Few people knew the word Arborist. The Austin Public Library information did not have the word in any literature I read. I learned about the International Society of Arboriculture at a Forestry Convention in New Orleans which doubled as a honey moon trip for me and my wife Mary. Meanwhile trees where dying from oak wilt on a massive scale. A small engine plane trip with my brother-in-law to Kerrville Money aircraft factory showed hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of red and live oaks were dead standing as we flew over.

The few tree people in Austin came together (15-25) in mid to late 80s to present a united front of information concerning oak wilt. The Central Texas Arborist Association was the result. For many years this brought information concerning oak wilt and other tree issues. Eventually the CTAA became members switched to the new Texas Chapter of the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture).

We all benefited from membership and the educational aspect. We received lots of continuing education in exotic places. Eventually Certification became the norm. We all learned about trees! However, we all had experience other than what was mandated by ISA. Actual experience augmented our education. I early on rebelled against pruning classification. First, Second, and Third Class pruning was yuk. Some large trees called for some of each class. Lots of trees needed to be removed. I chose not to do class pruning. This and other things labeled me as Holistic. Like a pest license.

My careering hard core pesticide spraying ended off Cuernavaca in the late 80’s early 90’s. I was spraying a pecan for web worms. I knew it all. A neighbor with small children was taken exception with my spraying. I retorted with my education. As I spoke I realized I had a severe headache and what expose skin that was showing (I had rubber gloves, slicker/respirator and goggles on) and it was glowing red. A glance to the dripping tree, the runoff, the drainage ditch going downhill to Lake Austin. She had a concern for her children health. I left that job with respect for her and a realization that chemicals were not her children or mine friends.

The answer was systemic injections. This worked and works well. My own live oak trees had an invasion of web worms. I was going to spray Thurcide. I looked up and observed many different birds in a feeding frenzy and were gorging themselves on worms to take to their young. It occurred to me that the live oak was charitably giving back to the community its young leaves to feed the wild life. It had ample reserves to do so. The byproduct of the worms (poop) in this case was not a health hazard. In health issues a systemic injection is called for. This is where experience and no options are important. There are not many decisions that do not have many factors to take in account.

Oak wilt is political. Fear of oak wilt sells expensive treatments. Treatment performed in time save trees (or a percentage of a tree). My flight over to Kerrville in the 80’s showed me that beetle, pruning cuts etc. was a small issue to an event that manifest itself many times over a millennium. Maybe oak wilt is essential to the overall needs for a healthy ecosystem like wildfire that has been suppressed.

Prevent Oak Wilt is like Chicken Little saying “The sky is falling. The sky is falling”.

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