Organizations partner to host oak wilt management workshop

CASS COUNTY —  The Cass County Conservation District has teamed up with Southwest X Southwest Corner Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, American Arbor LLC, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources — Urban and Community Forest Program and ReLeaf Michigan, to host an oak wilt management workshop this weekend.

The workshop will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Jeff Steinkraus’ farm, 18623 Marcellus Hwy., Marcellus. Registration for the program costs $10. Participants who attend the event will also have the opportunity to earn Restricted Use Pesticide credits and Continuing Education Units. The day will also feature a woodlot walk on Steinkraus’ property. Steinkraus is also a consulting forester.

Oak wilt is an exotic disease, becoming active in the spring. It is recognized by rapid wilting and loss of leaves starting at the top of the tree. Once a tree is infected with the invasive species, it can die within a few weeks, according to Michigan State University Extension.

“Overall, the first important thing is to help people be aware of what oak wilt is, how to identify it and how to avoid it from spreading,” said Cass County Conservation District Administrator Korie Blyveis. “If left untreated, oak wilt can kill oak trees, specifically, red oaks, which are more susceptible to the invasive species.”

Blyveis said once one tree becomes infected, the invasive species can be transferred through multiple trees’ root systems, causing an entire forest to become infected. Sap feeding beetles can also move spores of oak wilt to other healthy trees.

Blyveis said oak wilt had been identified in three woodlot locations in Cass County.  She did not consider the issue to be prevalent.

At the workshop, Steinkraus will share general forest management strategies and talk about plans.

Eleanor Serocki, of SW x SW Corner CISMA, will be at the event to talk about widespread invasive species as well as oak wilt.

Dr. David Roberts, of The Plant Doctor, LLC, will give the bulk of the program. He will discuss the prevention and management strategies of oak wilt. Roberts, who has studied oak wilt for years, will discuss the pros and cons of using tree injections with the fungicide propiconazole, root graft disruption and the use of herbicides to stop oak wilt from spreading.

“He will share some of the ‘tales of horrors’ and stories of successes and failures in trying to treat it,” Blyveis said.

Mike Stickle, a soil conservation technician, will discuss programs offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service for addressing these types of invasive species.

Mathew Bainbridge, of American Arbor LLC, has worked with Roberts and will be showing some of his oak wilt management tools, including injectors. He will provide a hands-on review of the tools and tips on how to operate them. Blyveis said this would be helpful for the people attending who will be out in the fields and woods distributing the treatments.

After the presentation, there is an option for attendees to go to a site outside of Cass County. At the location will be oak wilt, so participants can see it first-hand.

“It’s really hard to identify, too,” Blyveis said. “There are many things that happen in nature that you may think are oak wilt, but they are not. We are pretty excited. The workshop should widen the understanding of the species.”

Blyveis hopes the oak wilt management workshop will leave people with a better understanding of the whole picture of oak wilt. She also wants to give business owners and property owners who are dealing with oak wilt the tools they need to combat the invasive species.

“Everybody, they love their oak trees,” Blyveis said. “They are very slow-growing trees, and they provide wildlife food. If you have oaks in your residential neighborhood, you don’t want those destroyed and taken away by oak wilt. It would change the whole feeling of your neighborhood.”

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