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PINE FUNGUS MAKES ITS WAY TO BAY AREA : GOLDEN GATE PARK TREES AT RISK.

Byline: Associated Press

Sprawling Golden Gate Park is on the verge of invasion by an incurable and voracious fungus that is gradually destroying pine forests across California.

The pine pitch canker was discovered last week on numerous Monterey pine trees near the park, and forestry experts expect to find the fungus soon in parks and private gardens throughout the city.

Park officials said Tuesday that they haven't confirmed the presence of any infection on the 5,000 pine trees in Golden Gate Park, but they believe it's only a matter of time.

``It's a significant threat,'' said Larry Costello, an environmental horticulturist from the University of California who advises park officials. ``It's a progressive and chronic disease, and it doesn't bode well for Monterey pines in San Francisco.''

The expected invasion comes at a bad time for the park, where officials are still dealing with the loss of nearly 2,000 trees from windstorms the past two years and where the tree population is aging faster than forestry experts can replant.

Nearly 75 percent of the park's trees are considered in only fair shape or worse, and even the efforts of urban foresters to replant more than 1,000 trees a year will not stem the loss of old and dying trees.

Until recently, San Francisco had dodged the disease. It is one of the last counties in this part of Northern California to be invaded by pine pitch canker, one of North America's most destructive tree diseases.

The epidemic has swept through some of the last stands of native pine forests along the Monterey Peninsula and has spread as far north as Mendocino County.

The pines in Golden Gate Park account for nearly 25 percent of all the park's trees. Forestry officials say the disease infects approximately 85 percent of all the pine trees in a stand, which could mean more than 4,000 pines are susceptible to the virulent fungus.

``It has us alarmed,'' said Dan McKenna, Golden Gate Park's urban forester. ``The next three years will be a critical time for us in dealing with the infection, and it means it's likely we'll have to come up with some alternative to pine trees.''

Pitch canker occurs in the Southeast and is thought to have been brought to the West Coast on firewood or lumber.

It was first spotted in 1986 at New Brighton State Beach in Capitola and in the Union City-Fremont area. Since then, it has spread along the coast from San Diego to Mendocino.

The fungus is spread within a forest by a dozen different types of beetles, but its long-distance travel has been aided by people who transport infected logs, firewood, wood chips, Christmas trees, pine cones and seedlings.

Although it does not kill every tree it infects, it disfigures most and overcomes young pines quickly.

In Carmel, pitch canker was recorded three years ago in 132 trees. This year, 600 trees have been infected.

``If it doesn't kill the trees outright, it sure makes them look ugly,'' said Gary Kelly, Carmel's parks director and co-chair of the state Pine Pitch Canker Task Force. ``It's hard enough managing a forest with all the pests and diseases that you see, but this is different because there's no cure. There's really nothing you can do about it.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 30, 1997
Words:551
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