Destructive Oak Wilt disease threatens county trees

A symptom of Oak Wilt (KXAN Photo)
A symptom of Oak Wilt (KXAN Photo)

West Lake Hills (KXAN) — It’s hard not to notice the lush oak trees that line the streets and neighborhoods in west Travis County and in West Lake Hills, but neighbors are worried those trees are in danger.

Oak Wilt is a destructive disease that spreads from tree-to-tree through connected roots. The fungus blocks oak trees from getting water and eventually kills the tree.

“Without a doubt it’s the trees, the trees are what make West Lake Hills,” explained Shannon McDaniel who lives on Las Brisas Drive in West Lake Hills. “They’re beautiful, they are a place to come home to feel at peace.”

McDaniel said her neighbors are the ones who brought the issue of Oak Wilt to West Lake Hills City Council members.

Oak Wilt Treatment Map

“This isn’t just an isolated problem, Oak Wilt is prevalent in other areas of the city, but this is where it’s the most dramatic and seems to be making the most headway,” explained Linda Anthony, West Lake Hills Mayor. “Oak Wilt doesn’t go away, it is, I guess, the closest thing you can kind of describe to Shingles. Once you get it, it stays in the system.”

Anthony said at their Dec. 9 city council meeting they proposed building a trench that’s about five feet deep.

“Cost is going to be a big factor if we move forward on this. We don’t even have an estimate on the cost of it yet,” explained Anthony who said they’re still in the early stages. “It’s obviously going to be a little complicated because this area and where [the Texas A&M Forest Service] is proposing the trench is not in the city of West Lake Hills, it’s in Travis County.”

“We trench in an effort to contain it, we go four feet deep and a 100 feet away, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t,” said Beckers. He said in 1990 they attempted to contain this disease when it was in its infancy and that trench did not succeed in one direction, but it did in another.

“Thirty years, this fungus has been growing claiming more trees, probably hundreds of very nice live oaks that are 50, 150 years of age,” explained Eric Beckers with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

He’s been tracking the spread for more than a decade and predicted it would keep inching toward West Lake Hills.

Beetles are to blame for the spread of Oak Wilt from read oaks to live oaks. Once the disease is in a live oak, it spreads from root-to-root.

A symptom of oak wilt is veinal necrosis. That's when the veins of a leaf turn brown.
A symptom of oak wilt is veinal necrosis. That’s when the veins of a leaf turn brown (KXAN Photo)

“When you lose large number of grand trees it’s very demoralizing, it’s easy to say you lose your property value, your air conditioning cost goes up, and they can be hazardous,” explained Beckers.

How to manage Oak Wilt

  • Prevent new infections and don’t prune a tree between February and June.
  • Stop the spread through roots by installing a trench at least four feet deep and 100 ft beyond the perimeter infection center
  • Inject high-value oaks with fungicide
  • Plant resistant trees, or ones that are immune to Oak Wilt.

“To me, going ahead and biting the bullet and if Travis County gives us the approval, trenching makes the most sense and [has] proven to be the most effective way to stop this,” said Anthony. She said they haven’t contacted Travis County officials yet because they’re still figuring out their plan.

They expect to bring up Oak Wilt again at next week’s city council meeting.

To learn more about oak wilt go to TexasOakWilt.org.

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