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Sudden Oak Death and Us

Sudden Oak Death and Us

Leo Litchman

This article appeared in the 2001 August issue of Chips & Chatter.

We've been hearing a lot lately about sudden oak death. In case you've been looking the other way, or hiding under a rock, this is a disease that's killing large numbers of our native California oaks, and threatens to wipe most of them out eventually, if something can't be done soon. As citizens, environmentalists, Californians, we are all concerned about the alteration of our landscape and the future of our forests. Experts are at work, but the most optimistic among them don't foresee an immediate solution, and the most pessimistic believe that the trees will be largely wiped out.

As woodturners, we fit into a worrisome category: weekend chainsawyers. These are people who go out looking for wood, usually for the fireplace, but in our case for turning bowls. Harvesting wood from these dead or dying trees poses a real risk of spreading the disease. And what we, as turners, do is about as bad as it can get.

1. We often cut up the wood where we find it, thus creating sawdust which can be scattered, reaching neighboring trees more quickly.

2. We then reduce the wood further at home, scattering infected sawdust in our own neighborhoods. Then we give part of the wood to our friends, and donate to the wood raffle, so it gets cut up and spread even more widely.

3. Finally, we put it in the lathe and make most of it into chips, which may then go into the environment in various ways. One of the worst is using it as mulch since we all turn more than we can use, we give it to the neighbors, who are very far.

So what can we do? Is it hopeless? In terms of saving the trees, it may be. Even the experts don't have a handle on it yet, so our main objective should be to keep the disease out of our neighborhoods. Hauling this infected wood is illegal in most of the threatened areas, and we should obey the law. We woodturners, even though our numbers are relatively small, have the potential to add greatly to the problem. I have a friend who has a beautiful old oak tree  in his back yard, and he is afraid one of his neighbors could cause it to become infected by bringing in some firewood or ground cover.

Let's not do that to our neighbors.

Our slogan should be: NOT IN MY BACK YARD.

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