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White pine fungus continues to spread in southern Maine

Estimates put the the total value of forest-related economy in Maine at more than $6.47 billion.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 3, 2014 at 12:27 PM   |   Comments

PORTLAND, Maine, July 3 (UPI) -- Forestry officials in Maine say a fungal disease that affects white pines is spreading. William Ostrofsky, a forest pathologist with the Maine Forest Service, says the disease is most prevalent in southern and central Maine where pines thrive in the state's sandy soils.

Ostrofsky thinks the fungal problem has been worsened by this spring's seemingly perpetual rainfall. The infection, which has been present in the state for more than a decade, can be caused by several pathogenic fungi. The infection doesn't kill trees outright, but slowly saps them of strength, causing pines to lose their needles. Over the course of several years, the balding pines may perish as a result.

"It's not like trees are dying all over the place," said Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owner's Association. But Doak thinks woodlot managers, lumber companies, and forest officials need to remain diligent.

There's currently no cure for the fungal disease, but maintaining a tree's general health can help it fight the infection.

"I think people are gonna start watching and looking," said Maine State Entomologist Dave Struble, who thinks the spread of the disease will soon become more apparent to commercial interests.

Doak agrees that growers and harvesters should be concerned.

"The pine is a very valuable tree in Maine," he said. "Maine is the Number One white pine-producing state. It is a significant tree and ... it takes a very long time to grow."

Maine forestry officials are currently surveying the damage from the fungal disease, and will compare canopy health observations with records from years prior. The white pine is an integral part of the state's forestry industry. Estimates put the the total value of forest-related economy in Maine at more than $6.47 billion.

The same disease has also plagued white pines and their subsequently browning needles throughout the state of Vermont.

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