Save Austin Oaks

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How will projects be funded?

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 money must come from private donations.
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How will the money raised for the project be used?

The immediate goal of Save Austin Oaks is to stop the advance of oak wilt in Travis Heights and prevent its spread to other neighborhoods by implementing the containment project proposed by the Texas Forest Service. Additional goals are to educate the public about oak wilt prevention, diversify our urban forest and replace high-value trees killed by the fungus with disease resistant species, and contain any future outbreaks in Travis Heights and other Austin neighborhoods.
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How fast is the oak wilt spreading?

While the fungus can be unpredictable, oak wilt typically spreads through root connections at the rate of 50 to 200 feet per year (an average of 100 feet per year). As the infected area grows, the risk of accelerating the disease’s advance and starting new infection centers by insect-borne or human-borne fungus also increases. Assuming movement of the disease at a conservative 100 feet per year, the affected area can be expected to include Little Stacy Park within two years, South Congress Avenue within five years and all neighborhood areas south of 1400 Newning immediately.  Imagine Little Stacy Park with no trees.
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Wasn’t there a previous trenching project in the affected area in Travis Heights?

Yes, in 1996 and in 2005.  The State and City arborists believe that the 1996 trenching project failed because there were some critical delays in the project and become the trench may not have been deep enough.  The deeper 2005 trench, spanning 5000 linear feet, has been extremely successful containing the disease.  The only location where an outbreak has breached the trench is across Park Lane between the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Newning Avenue.  The current project will contain this relatively small outbreak while it is still financially manageable.
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Should I get involved, even if I don't live in Travis Heights?

Yes, for the following reasons:

  1. According to the Texas Forest Service, Travis Heights and adjoining neighborhoods to the south and west are the site of the largest and oldest stand of live oaks in the city of Austin. Many of these oaks are hundreds of years old, some dating from before Columbus. The loss of these ancient and beautiful trees would be a loss to the entire city.
  2. Because of the density of live oaks and red oaks in Travis Heights and adjoining neighborhoods, there is a high risk that if unchecked the disease will continue to spread outward in all directions through root connections, eventually reaching other neighborhoods. As the infected area grows, the risk of insect- or human-borne spread to new infection centers also increases. As Travis Heights goes, so goes the rest of central Austin.
  3. The economic cost of doing nothing could be huge. As the infected area grows, the cost of containment increases exponentially. In addition, aerial photos show that Travis Heights and most of central Austin are shaded by about 90% crown cover (much of it live oak canopies). The loss of our live oaks would have a significant impact on runoff, water quality, erosion, air quality, cooling costs and city ecosystems. Finally, removing and replacing dead trees is expensive -- removal of a large tree can easily exceed $5000.
  4. The loss of live oaks and red oaks will have an immeasurable impact on our comfort and the aesthetics of our city. Imagine central Austin without live oaks, our streets without overhanging shade, and ask yourself how much is it worth to prevent that happening.

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What about “microbial” solutions?

Some people claim that certain solutions consisting of beneficial microbes and fertilizer can prevent oak wilt. We would be delighted to find such an easy and inexpensive treatment, but these claims are purely anecdotal. We are not aware of any empirical studies to support them. Beneficial microbes often promote plant health, but there is no scientific evidence that they prevent oak wilt. In fact, the largest healthiest trees appear to be the most susceptible to oak wilt.
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