SACRAMENTO — The state is stepping up its offensive against a tiny fungus that has felled thousands of oak trees from Big Sur to Humboldt County.
State Resources Secretary Mary Nichols said Thursday the strategy may go beyond the immediate disease threat and include long-term safeguards for California oaks, similar to protections for redwoods or giant sequoias.
Nichols, a cabinet-level environmental adviser to Gov. Gray Davis, asked the Board of Forestry to coordinate the research and eradication program targeting the fungus, which is believed to be related to the disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century.
The Board of Forestry, the state’s top timber-policy panel, sets commercial logging rules for private land and enforces the state’s forestry laws.
The oak-killing fungus, first noticed five years ago in Marin County, has destroyed oaks in Monterey, Santa Cruz, Marin, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the state said. At one location, China Camp State Park in Marin County, 80 percent of the oak trees were infested.
A task force formed several weeks ago that includes state scientists and fire officials found that the disease has spread quickly, killing trees speedily once it invades their bark. The trees most at risk include live oak, tan oak and the California black oak.
“In the areas where it is active, it is killing so many trees that people are really concerned,” said board spokesman Louis Blumberg. “It also poses an increased fire risk.”
Nichols asked the Forestry Board to oversee that task force, and propose new rules and legislation to obtain funding for the eradication effort in next year’s budget – or even sooner.
Two weeks ago, an attempt to include $5 million for the threatened oaks was killed in the final moments of the 1999-2000 Legislature.