By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The drone of the chainsaw is filling the woods of Riverside Park as dozens of infected oak trees are being felled.

It’s bold action to stop the spread of the oak wilt virus which poses a threat nearly a quarter of our trees — not just in the major parks but throughout the region.

“This is not just in parks. This could be your back yard, it could be your front yard,” said Phil Gruzska of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Oak wilt is a virus carried from tree to tree by a native beetle. It spreads quickly in densely forested areas like Riverside where the city using a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service is clear-cutting areas to contain it.

“We know that 20 to 25 percent of what we have here just in this part of the park is red and white oak,” he explained. “So how could we not come in and remove 25 trees to preserve thousands that are around us?”

Some telltale signs of oak wilt are brown and falling leaves in the middle of summer, but once infected a tree cannot be saved — it must be gotten rid of to protect others.

“Once you see the first sign of oak wilt with the leaves wilting, you’re already too late,” Dan Dietrich of Dietrich said. “You got to jump on it rather quickly. If not it will go rampant in this area left unchecked.”

But all the news isn’t bleak.

“This is a battle we can win,” Gruszka said.

He says similar efforts around the region could contain oak wilt.

“Here when we find it, we catch it early. We eradicate the symptomatic trees and even the non-symptomatic trees and we can stop this disease.”

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