Save Austin Oaks

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Begin QuoteTravis Heights and surrounding areas are the site  of one of the largest stand of ancient live oaks in Austin.End Quote

-- Jim Rooni,
Texas Forest Service

Travis Heights Project

The Infection Center

Oak wilt has killed trees in most of the area several blocks east of South Congress bounded by Academy, Newning, Park Lane and Hillside, and has recently crossed Park Lane to infect the historic oaks in the 1400 block of Newning Avenue.  The perimeter of the infected areas appears to be advancing outward at 70 to 150 feet per year through the vast community root system of our live oaks, threatening trees to the east (Little Stacy Park), the west (South Congress and into the Bouldin Neighborhood) and to the south (Monroe, Annie and beyond).

The disease can advance as rapidly as 200 feet per year.  Assuming transmission at a conservative rate of 100 feet per year, South Central Austin will become unrecognizable in less than ten years. Streets typically are not effective barriers unless utility trenching has been done recently at sufficient depth (at least 48 inches). Imagine Little Stacy Park in ten years with no trees.

The Trenching Plan

The Texas Forest Service and the City of Austin have prepared a containment plan to enclose the infected area in accordance with the most recent scientific evidence collected by the Texas A&M Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. See a map of the trenching plan (PDF, Acrobat Reader required to view).

The trench is designed to sever all root connections between the infected area and surrounding healthy trees, thereby eliminating the transmission path of the disease and stopping its advance. Timely trenching has proven effective in preventing the spread of infections and has been successful in other areas.

Instances where trenching has failed has usually been attributable to either a failure to trench quickly enough or a trench of insufficient depth.  State and City arborists believe that a 1996 trenching project failed because there were some critical delays and because the trenching may have been too shallow.  According to the arborists, the current trenching project will be at a sufficient depth and (if accomplished by June 1, 2009) in sufficient time to contain the spread of the oak wilt fungus.

Save Austin Oaks is working with the Texas Forest Service, the City of Austin and H & T Utilities to implement the trenching plan.  The estimate for the trenching alone (not counting permitting fees) is $44,400.  The City's Urban Forest Grant Program, administered through Austin Community Foundation, has awarded $10,000 for the project and the Texas Forest Service may reimburse a portion of the cost if the trench is completed in accordance with State specifications.  However, the bulk of the funding must be raised through private donations.

Time is of the essence.  Oak wilt, like other living things, grows mostly vigorously during the spring and early summer.  If the trench is not completed by early summer, the infected area will have expanded to the point where the existing containment plan is no longer viable.  The infected area will have become larger and the disease most costly to treat.
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We are implementing an ongoing, long-term education program to inform neighborhoods and the public on how to manage healthy trees to prevent new oak wilt infections. This program will include raising awareness in neighborhoods through seminars and community partnerships, distribution of information to the public, outreach to commercial arborists, and working in tandem with the City of Austin and the Texas Forest Service. For information on how to prevent new oak wilt infections, visit our Preventing New Infections page.
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By planting a variety of disease resistant tree species suitable for Austin, over the long term we can diversify our urban forest and mitigate the effects of oak wilt and other diseases. We are working with the non-profit tree planting organization TreeFolks to implement this effort. If you are interested in obtaining trees for your neighborhood, or for detailed information on choosing, planting and growing trees in Austin, visit the TreeFolks website or the urban forestry website of the Texas Forest Service.
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Once the trenching is complete, we will monitor the trenched area and surrounding neighborhood closely with the help of the Texas Forest Service to verify that the trenching is successful. Such monitoring will allow us to respond quickly and cost-effectively if the disease breaches the trench in any place.

We will also monitor red oaks in and near the infected area so that we can immediately eliminate potential sources of airborne spread of oak wilt. With effective monitoring, we can greatly reduce the risk of oak wilt spread through above-ground vectors.
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