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Pine diseases claim area trees

Staff writer

Strong winds last weekend toppled several pine trees in Marion County, possibly weakened by several diseases running rampant in Kansas.

Harris and Deb Ewert cleaned up remains of a pine tree that fell across Falcon Road west of Hillsboro. They burned the remains with hopes that whatever disease weakened it would not spread to the rest of their stately roadside stand.

“It is really sad, but when I get the call to come and look at damaged trees, if it is the pine wilt, the only recommendation I can give is to burn it,” said Marion County Extension Agent Rickey Roberts. “Pine wilt is a disease carried in by a beetle and the affected trees must be burned before March 1 when the insect eggs hatch to keep it from spreading.”

According to information from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, pine wilt is especially devastating to Scots pines and the eastern half of the state had epidemic outbreaks this past year.

The disease moves quickly, killing the tree in a matter of weeks, though home and landowners may not actually notice what has happened until the tree is completely dead.

Another similar disease affecting many pine trees in Kansas is the pine blight, distinguished from pine wilt by the fact that it takes years to kill the tree instead of weeks.

“Pine blight is a fungal disease that we can spray for with some success,” Roberts said. “We have nothing that is cost effective, especially on a large scale basis, but if a homeowner has an affected tree that is an important part of the landscape, we might be able to save it from the blight.”

Roberts said the number of phone calls his office received in the past three or four years concerned pine tree death and disease has been numbing.

“All of our windbreaks have been damaged,” he said. “This has been just devastating to our landscape.”

Roberts said Kansas is the only state in the union, which does not have a species of pine tree indigenous to the area.

“Pine trees are not natural in Kansas,” he said. “All these trees were planted 40 to 50 years ago because they were relatively maintenance free, provided great windbreaks, and were a wonderful, attractive tree, but they were not suited to this area. It really is no surprise that now they are dying off.”

The drought of 2011 could be a factor in the devastation of pine trees in Marion County, but Roberts said it was more likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Drought affects all trees the same,” he said. “We may not know until spring how many trees in Kansas were really affected by the drought. There could be many varieties of trees that do not make it back. But at the end of the day, it’s a factor, that combined with fungus, beetles, and strong wind, was just too much.”

Roberts said the Kansas State University Extension office in Marion has a list of several types of trees that could be more resistant to pine wilt if people were looking to replant their windbreaks or landscape areas.

“I really think we have more a problem with blight than the wilt here,” he said. “We can do a lab test for wilt and I always have those come back negative. The blight takes longer to affect the trees, but I think we just are not noticing it soon enough.”

Last modified Jan. 5, 2012

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