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Michigan enters "high risk" period for oak wilt

Wilt pattern in oak leaves.
Photo courtesy of Joseph O'Brien
USDA Forest Service
Wilt pattern in oak leaves.

State officials recently announced that Michigan has entered a “high risk” period for the spread of the fungal tree disease known as oak wilt.

Oak wilt primarily spreads through root systems or through beetles carrying infected spores between trees.

Some of the most at-risk trees are black, white and northern red oaks.

Cheryl Nelson is a forest health forester with the Department of Natural Resources in northwest Michigan.

She says oak wilt is an issue that comes up every year. However, if it goes untreated it can spread rapidly in just four to six weeks, which fast for a tree disease.

"The fungus gets started in that vascular tissue so in the water conducting vessels of the tree, and it will just continue to form until there's so much of the fungus that it basically plugs up the cells of the tree," said Nelson.

Nelson says oak trees shouldn't be pruned during this high-risk period. The DNR is recommending to not prune oak tress until after July 15. Once a tree becomes infected there is no cure, which is why the DNR is taking a proactive approach.

"If management isn't done, and it is oak wilt, it will form a pocket of dead red oak trees. And it will just continue until it runs out of red oak trees," said Nelson.

Editor's note: In the interest of transparency, we note the Michigan DNR is a financial supporter of this station.

Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.