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State: Deadly oak wilt found in four Suffolk towns

Leaves from trees with oak wilt show a

Leaves from trees with oak wilt show a marginal "scorch," which may appear as thick bands of yellow or brown discoloration. Leaves may appear water-soaked and/or wilted, and trees may lose their leaves earlier than normal. Photo Credit: Cornell University / George Hudler

Oak wilt, a fast-moving and potentially fatal tree disease caused by fungus, has been detected in some areas in the towns of Babylon, Islip, Riverhead and Southold, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Markets said Thursday.

There is no known treatment for the disease, which was first detected in 1944 in the Great Lakes area, has since spread and kills thousands of oak trees annually, the DEC said.

In the next few weeks, officials will contact residents of neighborhoods where oak trees have been confirmed to have the disease to share information, including steps to protect trees that are not affected, according to a DEC spokesman and a news release from the agency. Residents with infected trees on their property are already being notified, the spokesman said.

In addition, emergency orders are in the works to designate Suffolk County and Brooklyn, where the disease also has been confirmed, as “protective zones,” the release said.

That “will prohibit the removal of any living, dead, standing, cut or fallen oak trees or any portion thereof, including branches, logs, stumps, or roots, and green oak lumber and firewood (of any species) out of the protective zones unless it has been chipped to less than one inch in two dimensions,” the release said.

Moving contaminated wood without taking precautions would help spread the disease, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.

A public meeting is planned for the end of January, the DEC spokesman said, with the agency set to remove and destroy the affected oaks over the winter.

In the spring, “intensive sampling” on Long Island is planned to determine the extent of the disease, the agency said.

While all native New York oak species are susceptible, those in the red oak group can succumb especially quickly, according to plant pathologists at Cornell University. While red oaks can take just a few weeks to succumb, the DEC said, white oaks can last for years and have less risk for spreading the disease.

Earlier this year, a small, isolated infestation of oak wilt was found in Central Islip, Seggos said in an August news release.

A concerned tree-care professional had submitted samples from a symptomatic oak tree and went on to remove and destroy four trees that showed signs of the disease, that release said.

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