State College

Ferguson Township supervisors fail to reach consensus on program to address oak wilt

A lack of consensus among the four supervisors present Tuesday night means the township won’t move ahead with a program to study and address a fungus killing oak trees.

Oak wilt attacks all oak trees, but especially red oaks, attacking trees from the tops down. According to Penn State Extension information, the infected trees often die within a few weeks. The fungus is highly contagious, spread by sap-eating insects or through the tree roots.

The fungus is one in a line of diseases and bugs also attacking elm, ash and hemlock trees in the region. Municipalities have taken various measures to address those issues — treatment, removal or a mix of the two.

Ferguson Township was notified by a Berkshire Drive resident last month that a tree tested positive for oak wilt and, over two meetings, supervisors discussed the possibility of a township survey of oak trees and potential action to address the fungus.

Manager Mark Kunkle said the resident plans to implement treatment of the tree with an arborist. The program Kunkle proposed was based on one by Patton Township that the neighboring municipality still uses.

Patton removed 15 oak trees in Park Forest in 2004, after finding what Manager Doug Erickson called a “sizable infestation.” Along with removal, the township dug trenches around the trees to break up the roots and prevent further spread of the fungus.

“We also injected additional trees in the area to protect them from future infection,” Erickson said. “It was a pretty extensive program. We spent on the order of $70,000 to contain the problem then.”

The township also posted signs asking residents not to prune their oak trees until November. Doing so in the spring and summer creates “wounds” in the tree attractive to insects that could spread the fungus.

Since 2004, Patton has taken similar action on one or two trees each year in the last few years, many found in the area of Oakley Drive. The township pays for the tree removal and trenching, about $5,000 per tree. It hasn’t discovered any infected oaks this year.

“Once a tree is infected, it will die,” Erickson said. “We haven’t tried to save any. Once we get notified of a tree, it’s pretty routine for us anymore.”

Kunkle discussed the program with supervisors during their regular meeting Tuesday, suggesting the township begin with a survey of the Park Hills and Park Forest neighborhoods to determine if Ferguson has a more widespread oak wilt problem.

Supervisors Bill Keough and Dick Mascolo opposed moving ahead now with a program, expressing concern about using taxpayer money.

Mascolo said he would support a program similar to that of State College. The borough removes infected oak trees in its right of way, and also trenches and treats adjacent trees with fungicide. Arborist Alan Sam said the borough will trench on private property with permission.

Sam said the borough has not seen a confirmed case of the fungus in several years.

“Unfortunately, the last few years have been very difficult for trees — elm yellows, emerald ash borer, hemlock wooly adelgid, bacterial leaf scorch, Dutch elm disease, gypsy moth and more,” Sam said. “It makes it tough to figure out what type of trees to plant that won’t be killed off in the next 40 to 50 years.”

Because of that siege on trees, Ferguson’s Keough suggested taking the tree discussion to the Centre Region Council of Governments and addressing it as a region.

“I think it is worthy of a municipal, COG-level discussion because it is a regionwide problem,” he said.

Chairman George Pytel and Supervisor Elliott Killian supported a township program. Pytel said he worries that, without it, the problem will spread and wipe out the township’s oak trees.

Mascolo said one infected township tree is not an issue and that he’ll be concerned when there are more.

“By then it’ll be too late,” Pytel countered.