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Filbert blight threatens historic farm.

Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Eastern filbert blight has infected a tree near the historic Dorris Ranch, threatening to devastate the nation's oldest commercial filbert orchard and one of the largest parks in the Eugene-Springfield area.

The disease is continuing its march through the southern Willamette Valley, until recently the last refuge from the fungus in the Pacific Northwest. It may already have a toehold in most local orchards, including the 100-year-old Dorris orchard just south of Springfield.

"It's an incredible public asset," said John Kraft, park operations manager. "What's Dorris Ranch without hazelnuts?"

Even with the best management practices available, Kraft said, "the prospect is dire."

The 250-acre ranch is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the trees planted by George and Lulu Dorris as early as 1903 became the main source of filbert trees in the Northwest.

The Willamalane Park and Recreation District, which owns the ranch, intends to fight the inevitable invasion. Managers decided Tuesday to start a pruning and fungicide spraying program immediately in hopes of saving the park's 9,280 filbert trees, which are commercially harvested.

The disease appeared in the Northwest in the 1960s and has obliterated the filbert, or hazelnut, industry in some Oregon counties.

The fungus emerges as rows of small, black cankers on limbs, eventually girdling infected branches and killing the leaves. In five to 12 years, the entire tree dies.

In Lane County, the disease was first detected in commercial trees in August.

The latest report came last week of an infected tree south of Dorris Ranch, just across the confluence of the middle and coast forks of the Willamette River.

"I think most growers in the area assume they have it, if they haven't already found it," said Garry Rodakowski, who owns a 60-acre orchard in Vida and manages two others.

Rodakowski and other growers said they'll also rely on aggressive pruning, fungicide spraying and removal of infected trees to prolong the productivity of their orchards.

But the disease will continue to spread from abandoned orchards and infected ornamental trees, said Ross Penhallegon, a horticulturist with the Oregon State University/Lane County Extension Service.

Penhallegon recommends that property owners cut down unmaintained filbert trees to help slow the spread of the blight, which is swept from tree to tree by wet, windy weather in the spring.

"Particularly in the Coburg, Harrisburg and Thurston areas, since they are so heavily infected, if you have a hazelnut tree, it is going to die," Penhallegon said. "The more trees that can be taken out, the better the industry is going to survive."

Earlier Tuesday, Nick and Cheryl Platt watched the last of their filbert orchard and one belonging to a neighbor burn in a bonfire near their Thurston-area home as white ash settled in their hair.

"It's like losing a family member, only 130 of them," said Nick Platt, a fourth-generation farmer on the land who planted his trees 20 years ago.

The couple had the trees cut down and torched this week to help delay the disease reaching filbert growers in the McKenzie River Valley.

Horticulturists believe the orchard may have harbored the crippling blight for as long as eight years.

The Platts' filbert harvest wasn't their sole income, and they're nearing retirement and watching the city gradually surround their 36-acre farm. They aren't sure what they'll do with the land, but they knew it was time to get rid of the diseased trees.

"We don't want to be responsible for contaminating others who depend on that for their livelihood," Cheryl Platt said.

Commercial filbert growers volunteered to raze both the Platts' orchard and their neighbor's - about 240 trees in all. They stacked and burned the wood to ensure none of the fungal spores survive.

"That's our best bet now to reduce the exposure," Rodakowski said.

Penhallegon believes it's possible to spare the county's commercial filbert orchards until OSU develops species immune to the disease. But that's expected to take another four to eight years.

"It's an ominous situation, but that's the reality of where we're at," Penhallegon said. "Is keeping a tree in the backyard more important than saving the hazelnut industry?"

Waiting for resistant trees to be bred appears to be the only hope for filbert growers, said John Griesbach, supervisor of the plant health section for the state Department of Agriculture.

"When you find this disease in an area, it's much more widespread than you realize," Griesbach said.

With mounting evidence that the blight is established in the southern valley, the state is considering repealing a long-standing prohibition on the sale of filbert nursery stock for ornamental, landscape, reforestation and land reclamation purposes. A public hearing on the issue will be held Jan. 6 in Salem.

"The quarantine has basically failed," Griesbach said. It's time to concentrate on methods of treating infected trees and breeding resistant ones, he said.

FILBERT BLIGHT INFORMATION

Suspect filbert blight? Call the OSU/Lane County Extension Service at 682-4243

These Web sites provide more details on Eastern filbert blight:

Oregon State University: oregonstate.edu/dept/botany/epp/EFB/

OSU/Lane County Extension Service: extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/

CAPTION(S):

Volunteers help to cut down and burn a filbert orchard in Springfield in an effort to slow the spread of filbert blight.
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Title Annotation:Agriculture; A nearby infected tree prompts vulnerable Dorris Ranch to prune and spray
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 17, 2003
Words:881
Previous Article:A flight to remember.
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