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Douglas County sets policy to slow oak wilt spread

The new policies will accommodate harvesters facing new restrictions and address the spread of the fungal infection.

Douglas County Forest sign 1
A sign welcomes people to the Douglas County Forest near Solon Springs on Monday morning, Oct. 18, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Douglas County officials are taking steps to protects county forests from oak wilt.

First discovered in southwestern Douglas and Bayfield counties in 2018, the disease that kills oak trees has spread in Douglas County.

“So when we sell oak sales now on the forest, it’s pretty much forest-wide now,” said Jon Harris, natural resources and forestry director, during a meeting of the county's forest, parks and recreation committee on Dec. 20. “We have a harvesting restriction. The loggers cannot cut sales from April 15 to July 15 because we don’t want to promote the transmission.”

That’s when the disease and the beetles that spread it are most active.

The fungal infection is carried by sap-feeding beetles and can have devastating effects on an oak tree's vascular system, killing it within months of contracting the infection. Oak wilt can spread through the root systems to infect other oak trees in the vicinity.

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“Five years ago, was that in the county? Not really,” Harris said. “So we sold sales without restriction. Now oak wilt is throughout the county.”
Harris said his department went through 147 active contracts the county currently has to determine which ones included oak before to the restrictions were put in place. They identified three that were sold without restrictions on when the timber could be harvested.

Technically, the harvesters could go in and harvest during the restricted period, but its not desirable for the health of the forest, Harris said. He proposed giving harvesters the option of turning the sale back to the county without penalty or reducing the overall cost of the contract to compensate timber harvesters for the restrictions.

“We’re lucky,” said county board Chairman Mark Liebaert. “Out of 147, there are only three.”

Supervisor Nick Baker made a motion to set a policy that would allow the affected harvesters to turn the sale back to the county without penalty or discount the contract by 15%.

Liebaert said he would rather have a policy than negotiate individually with timber harvesters.

In addition to approving the policy, the forest, parks and recreation committee established a blanket exemption to Douglas County’s pesticide ordinance to slow the spread of oak wilt.

While there is no curative treatment for oak wilt, the spread can be slowed by killing healthy trees in the vicinity of the infected tree. The process to kill the healthy trees nearby involves a technique call girdling and applying an herbicide.

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Both measures will be considered Jan. 20 by the Douglas County Board.

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREDOUGLAS COUNTY
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