Oak wilt is back in a neighborhood that once so prized its oaks that it was named after them.
The Glen Oaks subdivision in Glenville will lose about 30 oaks before spring in an attempt to stop the spread of the tree-killing disease.
The Department of Environmental Conservation issued an emergency order banning anyone from moving firewood, tree limbs or any other tree parts from the area unless it has been chipped to less than one inch in size.
Homeowner Terry Phillips called DEC after he saw his 100-year-old oak begin to die this summer.
Phillips and another neighbor notified DEC of the last oak wilt infestation in 2008. DEC removed 75 trees and 45 stumps at the time.
But two grand oaks in Phillips’ backyard tested free of the disease. With diameters of 3 feet, they towered over his yard, a huge visual fixture he hoped to save.
Phillips won permission to pay for a trenching system that DEC thought might stop oak wilt from spreading to the trees.
It wasn’t enough.
In August, about a third of the tree’s leaves fell.
“Something was wrong,” Phillips said.
“I didn’t think it was oak wilt because it didn’t behave like oak wilt. The other trees, when they had oak wilt, the whole tree was impacted. The leaves drooped and by July they were losing all their leaves,” he said.
Since only about a third of his tree was hurt, he hoped it was some other, treatable disease.
But the tree tested positive for oak wilt. DEC said both of Phillips’ trees will have to be cut down.
This round of oak wilt, combined with the 2008 bout, leaves Phillips with just one tree in his backyard. It’s not an oak.
His front yard has been harvested too, but he has a few non-oaks there as well.
It’s a very different place from when he first moved in.
Phillips said he was saddened but ready to say goodbye to the last oaks on his property.
“In the beginning, if they had said those trees need to come down to save the trees of New York, I would’ve been sad but I would’ve been OK with it,” he said.
DEC actually recommended taking them down at the time — but only because it would be cheaper than trying to save them, he said. Phillips agreed to spend $2,500 on the trench system.
“At this point, I’m sad that they’re dying, but I did everything I could to save them,” he said. “I can’t do anything more.”
DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson said the agency isn’t sure why the trenching system didn’t work. He cautioned that homeowners shouldn’t assume the method is always ineffective.
“It didn’t work in this case,” he said.
The agency also isn’t sure how the oak wilt came back. DEC announced in 2011 that it had successfully eradicated oak wilt in the neighborhood.
“We’re not 100 percent sure [what happened],” Georgeson said. “It could’ve survived in the root system.”
The agency tried to avoid that by cutting down all the oaks within a 150-foot radius in early 2009. They hoped that would stop the wilt from being passed through the oaks’ root systems.
DEC worked with oak wilt experts from the U.S. Forest Service to develop the $190,000 eradication effort. There is no known treatment for the disease other than to remove the trees, Georgeson said.
He noted that this time the infestation is “relatively small and isolated” and much smaller than the 2008 infestation.
Oak wilt is caused by a tree-root fungus that stops water from reaching the rest of the tree. The first sign is early browning or wilting leaves. If nothing is done, the tree dies.
Oak wilt is also spread by beetles that are attracted to the fruity smell of the fungus.
DEC officials plan to remove the affected trees before the beetles become active in the spring.
So far, trees owned by four to six property owners are affected, Georgeson said.
The agency is testing samples from other oak trees in the area to see whether the disease has spread.