Bay Nature magazineApril-June 2009


Sudden Oak Death Blitz

April 1, 2009

The deadly plant disease known as sudden oak death (SOD) has spread to 14 coastal counties, and according to UC Berkeley’s Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab, the continuing epidemic threatens the survival of tanoaks, an ecologically important native tree, as well as several species of true oaks.

Tanoaks and oaks are dying, but the pathogen that causes SOD, Phytophthora ramorum, spreads primarily by infecting California bay laurels, which are not killed by it. But if the disease is identified on infected bays early enough, it’s sometimes possible to protect nearby oaks.

To get citizens involved in the fight against SOD, UC Berkeley expert Matteo Garbelotto and his lab are organizing the second-annual SOD Blitz. Last year, citizen scientists helped discover three new infestations. The idea is to educate citizen groups and send those people into their communities to identify infected trees, collect sample leaves, and return the leaves to the lab. The lab then maps infected and noninfected areas. The SOD blitzes are funded by the U.S. Forest Service and UC Berkeley. Check for dates and locations.

Garbelotto’s lab is also enlisting high school students in the fight. They’ll fan out into local parks, fields, and open spaces to collect leaves from suspect trees and return them to the lab for study. Students need to sign up in advance for the May 16 or May 23 training session.

If you think you have an infected oak on your property, check out the lab’s tree treatment workshops. Garbelotto will present two sessions, on April 22 and May 6, covering the latest SOD news, approaches to management, and how to identify trees that may be treatable.

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.