Fenwick Losing Trees To Pine Wilt Disease

FENWICK ISLAND – A disease called pine wilt has been identified as the cause of death for a growing number of trees throughout the resort town.

Sussex County Forester Laura Yowell told members of the Fenwick Island Town Council last month that pine wilt was responsible for the deaths of numerous black pines in the town during recent months.

“It’s a tough one to fight, it really is,” Yowell said.

Yowell was contacted by members of the town’s environmental committee who noticed that black pines throughout Fenwick were dying. She said testing had revealed that the culprit was pine wilt, which she described as a combination of agents acting together. Yowell explained that the pinewood nematode, a pathogen of non-native pines, was transmitted to trees by pine sawyer beetles. A tree is killed by the nematodes within weeks of being infested.

“There is no known treatment,” Yowell said.

She added that while there were both black and loblolly pines in Fenwick, the pine wilt only affected the black pines. Because they’re not native to the area, they are susceptible to the disease. Yowell said that in the past they’ve been planted throughout the area extensively because they do well in the poor soil, which is what makes them an easy target for the disease, however, because it and the ocean air put stress on the trees.

“It’s the perfect environment for this pine wilt disease,” Yowell said.

Because there is no known treatment for the disease, she says the biggest key is prevention. Yowell recommends that residents keep an eye on their trees and make an effort to water them and keep from damaging their roots.

“We’re going to try to reduce stress,” she said.

If homeowners suspect they have a tree with wilt, they should remove and destroy it. Yowell said if it’s cut down and left in the yard, the nematode will remain present and able to infect neighboring trees. Another way to prevent the disease, Yowell added, was to plant loblolly pines in the future.

Council members thanked Yowell for her insight on the disease and encouraged homeowners to do what they could to protect the town’s pine trees. Council member Julie Lee thanked the town’s environmental committee for bringing the issue to the public’s attention.

“It is real,” she said. “Better to take them down now than have the whole town voided of pine trees.”