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Invasive Species: Don't let it wilt

Feb. 27 through Mar. 3 is Invasive Species Awareness Week; Sault's Invasive Species Centre warns public of fish, bugs, trees that threaten to wreck our environment
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Feb. 27 through Mar. 3 marks National Invasive Species Awareness Week in the U.S.

In tandem with that, Sault Ste. Marie’s Invasive Species Centre will be holding its own awareness week for our area.

The Sault’s Invasive Species Centre’s staff do an exemplary job of promoting awareness of invasive species and taking the fight to those unwelcome insects, fish, plants and trees that pose a threat to our area’s ecosystem.

However, extra awareness is still needed, as neither Canada or Ontario have an official Invasive Species Awareness Week.

“We want to promote awareness and outreach for invasive species management…so the idea here is to build off on that success (of National Invasive Species Awareness Week in the U.S.), and utilize that attention to promote invasive species awareness and mitigation across Ontario,” said Lauren Bell, Invasive Species Centre communications coordinator, speaking to SooToday.

The public is invited to follow the Invasive Species Centre’s campaign on Facebook and Twitter (@InvSp) and to follow it through the week using the hashtag #InvSpWk

Bell said government organizations, non-profits and conservation authorities have come on board to help promote the cause (27 of them in all, as opposed to four organizations last year).

The theme of the week, Bell said, is ‘Protect What You Love.’

SooToday, with research provided by the Invasive Species Centre, will be highlighting a different form of invasive bug, vegetation or fish each day this week.

Tops on the pet peeve list for Taylor Wright, Invasive Species Centre project manager, is a bothersome condition known as Oak Wilt.

“It’s a disease, specific to oak trees.”

“It’s a vascular disease which means it affects the living tissue within the tree.  It’s not dangerous to humans or any other plant or animal,” Wright said.

"There are no known infestations of Oak Wilt in Ontario, however there are known infestations in Michigan. Of most concern are infestations in the western U.P. and in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula.”

“It can be transferred in two different ways," Wright explained.

“Once infected, the tree will develop a mat of fungal spores beneath the bark. Beetles are attracted to the smell of the spores, and once they land on the infected tree, can carry spores on their bodies to other uninfected trees.”

“The other way it spreads is through the roots.  If you have multiple oak trees on a property the disease can spread underground through the root system, it’s really difficult to manage.”

An oak tree can be lost to Oak Wilt within four years, though in extreme cases, an oak tree can succumb to the disease within a year, Wright said.

Signs of Oak Wilt are bronzing and wilting of the foliage near the top of the tree, with loss of leaves before the fall.

“Sometimes you can also see the fungus pushing out or cracking the bark,” Wright said.

So what can we do to keep Oak Wilt out of our area?

“The number one thing for any kind of forest pest, is do not transport firewood,” Wright said.

“We drive that message home all the time.”

“You never know what’s in your firewood, and if you take it from one part of the province to another you can be inadvertently spreading something you know nothing about,” Wright said.

To help combat moving of risky firewood from the U.S. and other countries into Canada, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents confiscate firewood.

Wright said it is also recommended people wait until later in the season, such as the fall, to prune their trees, when it is not as likely beetles will transfer the disease from tree to tree.

More information on Oak Wilt can be found online at forestinvasives.ca and through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

SooToday will highlight other forms of invasive species throughout this week.