Plaintiffs File Evidence Of Non-Compliance Regarding Oak Wilt Prevention In Kinder Morgan Case

Terra Rivers, Managing Editor

According to a press release, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan’s federal permit have submitted evidence of “widespread non-compliance” regarding the treatment of Oak Wilt in the Hill Country.

The Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition (TREAD) said the evidence was documented by wilt expert David Vaughan and a group of trained biologists, landowners, and volunteers.

Texas Oak Wilt is an infectious disease in the United States caused by the fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum, which disables the water-conducting system in susceptible oak trees.

According to Texas Oak Wilt, the fungus is spread via two ways: above ground and below ground.

  • The above-ground movement is facilitated by a sap-feeding beetle that carries the fungal spores to new trees.
  • The below-ground movement occurs when the fungus travels from tree to tree through interconnected roots.

The Central Texas region is home to large populations of oak species, which provide habitat and shade for animals and people throughout the region.

According to TREAD, Oak wilt has spread through and devastated large areas of Central Texas and the Hill Country over the last 40 years, leaving thousands of large, dead oaks in its wake.

“Based on the foregoing matters, and my expertise as an arborist, it is my opinion that right-of-way activity (i.e., clearing, trenching, and related earth-moving actions), in the Central Texas and nearby Hill Country area any time during the February 1 through June 30 time frame is likely to increase the spread of Oak Wilt in the area and damage and reduce the critical Oak-Juniper habitat required by the Golden-cheeked Warbler,” says David Vaughan, a Certified Arborist by the International Society of Arboriculture.

Kinder Morgan received their federal permits and started clearing trees for construction in the Hill Country after a judge denied a temporary restraining order on February 14.

However, the permits require conservation measures to be taken during construction; the company is only allowed to perform certain types of clearing at certain times of year to the full extent feasible.

“Tree clearing crews have implemented almost none of the required preventive measures to reduce the spread of oak wilt,” TREAD said. “The disease is almost certainly now being spread over a much larger area around the pipeline route because the federal agencies approved clearing in the worst season for transmission of the disease (February – July) and Kinder Morgan ignored the treatments that would have reduced the threat.”

The proposed Permian Highway Pipeline by Kinder Morgan will require clearing and preparing the right-of-way for trenching and pipe installation, which involves the removal of trees to accomplish the pipeline construction.  

According to TREAD, the equipment used often damages oak trees in the vicinity of the trenching and clearing activities; large equipment accidentally hits trees that are to remain, felled trees can break limbs on trees just beyond the easement boundaries, tub grinders can fling large wood debris and wound trees that are to remain.

TREAD said, “All of these wounds need to be treated as soon as they occur. Broken branches need to be properly pruned and treated as soon as they happen.”

The City of Austin has information on Oak Wilt and a guide of preventive measures that can be taken to protect oaks and prevent the spread of the disease for residents.

Prevent New Infections

  • Cut and dispose of diseased red oaks immediately.
  • Avoid wounding oak trees, including pruning, from February through June.
  • Sterilize/sanitize all pruning equipment between trees and paint all wounds and fresh stumps regardless of the season.
  • Handle oak firewood cautiously, burn all firewood before spring, and never store unseasoned oak wood from infected trees near healthy oaks.

 Stop Spread through Root Connections

  • Install a trench at least 4 ft deep and 100 ft beyond the perimeter of infection centers (last symptomatic tree) to break up root connections.

Inject High-value Oaks with Fungicide

  • Identify susceptible, high-value oak trees in proximity to expanding oak wilt infection centers.
  • Consult a trained and licensed arborist (with certified applicator’s license) for the treatment of susceptible trees with injections of propiconazole (AlamoTM).

Plant Resistant Trees

  • Plant trees that are resistant to oak wilt and adapted to central Texas.
  • Favor a diversity of tree species.
  • Avoid wounding susceptible oaks during planting.

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