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Tree Diseases Threaten North Texas

A Live Oak leaf with the classic signs of Oak Wilt.
A Live Oak leaf with the classic signs of Oak Wilt. Photo by Steve Houser.

There's growing evidence that tree diseases are in North Texas.

Transcript Published October 19, 2009 By WFAA STAFF

It seems impossible but what if your favorite places, parks and streets lost many of their trees?

It's happened in communities across the country where deadly diseases have wiped out entire blocks.

Now, there's growing evidence that those same diseases are in North Texas.

Nature's deceptive beauty etched and gouged this tree to death.

"Have I ever seen this? No, I have not," said Geoff Sherman of North Richland Hills Parks.

It is possible to see tracks left behind by beetles that spreads Dutch elm disease from tree to tree.

It's destroyed countless tree-lined streets, up north, where elms are common.

"Entire populations of trees being wiped out," said Sherman.

Elms are far less common in North Richland Hills and other North Texas communities.

But experts now confirm Dutch elm disease is killing trees here too.

It's one of several tree diseases threatening the region.

The worst is oak wilt which can kill a tree in one month.

It spreads from tree to tree, through roots or sometimes when firewood is transported.

About two years ago Dallas homeowner Kevin Spaeth learned about Oak Wilt in his Lakewood neighborhood.

"Across the street, over there, is where the issue is," he said.

Spaeth invited his neighbors over to work together against the spread of oak wilt.

"We had about 25 to 30 people come out," he said.

Several neighbors treated their trees with an expensive chemical.

Spaeth spent thousands protecting his trees and the value of his home.

While some pay to protect their trees, others don't have a choice. In communities around the country, including Austin, if a homeowner has a diseased tree they are required by law to remove it at their own cost.

Steve Houser is an arborist.

He's working with the City of Dallas to establish ordinances to promote and protect trees.

He says oak wilt is spreading, infecting 135 large clusters of trees in the Dallas area.

"That's about twice what we had five years ago," he said.

He wants the city to consider an ordinance requiring homeowners to cut down infected trees.

To him an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold.

Almost literally.

"If the city is willing to require removal it's going to have a more profound effect on the spread of disease," said Houser.

Without an epidemic of dying trees, that might not happen.

But what homeowners are required to do now with a diseased tree.

"At this point, they don't have to do anything," said Sherman.

That might not be enough to keep an epidemic from taking root in the first place.

A transcript of the report is also available on WFAA Channel 8's website.

About the author

ABC WFAA Channel 8

ABC WFAA Channel 8 was the first television station located in Dallas.

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