Pine wilt disease makes its way into western counties

HAYS — Pine wilt is back, and apparently with a vengeance.

New reports of the pine-killing disease recently have been confirmed in several western Kansas counties, including Osborne, Phillips, Rooks, Rush and Smith.

The latest reports follow the discovery of several trees afflicted with the disease more than two years ago in the Hays area.

And it means the disease once again is making its way west, with Hays at the forefront of the westward expansion line, according to District Forester Jim Strine, based at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center.

"It seems to be spreading," Strine said.

About five trees in the Hays area tested positive for the disease this summer, and that's on top of the three that were found in early 2008.

Spread by the pine sawyer beetle, pine wilt will kill scots, Austrian and mugo pines. All three are introduced species, and, as a result, have no resistance to the disease. Native pine trees "are highly resistant," but can fall victim to the disease while struggling to survive another ailment.

The current hot spots for pine wilt, Strine said, are in the Beloit, Lincoln, Ellsworth and Great Bend areas.

"This disease is just slowly moving west," he said.

It was first found in southeast Kansas in 1979.

Pine sawyer beetles can't fly long distances, but there's little need to do so with a ready supply of pines nearby.

"If you don't have to go far for food, why?" he said of the beetles' lack of ability to travel longer distances.

Although he's unsure why pine wilt disappeared from the landscape for more than two years, he said it's back.

In fact, five trees south of Hays had to be removed to halt the spread of pine wilt.

Strine also has found infected trees in the Rush Center area, and just recently obtained samples of suspect trees south of Plainville.

Now is the time to find the dead and dying trees and dispose of them — prior to May 1, when the beetles could emerge again as adults.

Strine spends much of his time looking for infected trees, as do area Extension offices.

"If the tree's infected, you need to get them down before the first of May," he said.

And down means exactly that, cut down, burned, chipped or buried. And anything cut for use as firewood must be burned by May 1 or the beetles will emerge from the unburned logs and start spreading again.

There is a treatment, but it's expensive and might not work.

"I'd only recommend it for high value trees," Strine said.

Otherwise, he said, about the only thing that can be done is to get rid of the already infected trees, in hopes of slowing the spread of the disease.

"I think we have to face reality, that the disease is going to spread west," Strine said. "The best we can do is limit that spread."