Pine trees in Wichita being cut down due to disease

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Pine trees are being cut down in west Wichita due to a disease known as pine wilt that can clog the tree's water and nutrient channels.

According to Matthew McKernan, an ornamental horticultural agent at the Kansas State University Research and Extension Center in Sedgwick County, the disease gets in the trees late in the summer and into the fall.

"We often see the rapid collapse of those trees in the heat of the summer because water and nutrients can't flow throughout the tree," he said.

A small worm known as a nematode gets inside the tree, clogging the water and nutrient channels so it can't flourish. The nematodes are too small to go from tree to tree, so McKernan said a small beetle known as a pine sawyer beetle carries them to other trees, and it spreads quickly.

"The pine wilt disease can spread very quickly because of the pine sawyer beetle spreading those nematodes from tree to tree," McKernan said.

When it spreads, McKernan said it can take weeks or several months to kill the tree depending on the age of it. Mckernan also said the this years weather has made it harder on pine trees. They don't usually do well in wet conditions and with the wet spring and now with the warm temperatures in Wichita it made them susceptible to the other diseases they can get like tip blight, dothistroma needle blight along with pine wilt.

Once it's diagnosed with pine wilt, the tree won't survive according to McKernan.

"There is no way to save it once it's infected," he said.

Due to this, the HOA Management Services group that oversees the Auburn Hills neighborhood area said they are cutting down 59 trees over the next four years.

"The trees have to come down or the pine wilt will spread to other trees," Rodney Wright said, the vice president and chief operating officer of HOA Management Services.

Wright said they plan to replace them with new trees after their board of directors are done surveying the dead tree areas and making decisions on that.

"Something that will beautify the area, but are easy to maintain," he said.

In their plan they also want to clean up the area, and McKernan said burning the wood and the pines are the best option.

"So that the pine beetle isn't able to survive," he said.

Right now remnants of the trees are being seen on sidewalks by residents in the Auburn Hills neighborhood area.

"I see the stumps over there and the logs laying down there," said Ron Chippeaux, a resident who lives near where they are being cut down.

Seeing the trees down all around the area, Chippeaux said it's hard for him to believe that any will survive here since the tree is not native to the state of Kansas.

"I'm not an expert," Chippeaux said. "But it looks like to me it's probably going to kill every one in Wichita."

McKernan said the trees do shed normally so it's not always the disease. The trees shed their inner pines and they turn brown, which he said can be a sign of a healthy tree as long as the outside pines are green and the branches aren't brittle.

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