What is damaging Wilton’s trees?

Photo of J.D. Freda

WILTON — The town is in the midst of facing an unfamiliar threat to its greenery and open spaces — beech leaf disease.

According to the Connecticut Agricultutural Experiment Station, beech leaf disease causes leaf drop and thin canopies in beech trees. It also makes the trees susceptible to other malicious pests.

The disease, first discovered in Ohio in 2012, has spread to parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Eastern Canada and other pockets of North America.

The issue is the lack of a cure or preventative treatments, said Mike Conklin Wilton’ environmental affairs director.

“Scientists do not have a complete understanding about beech leaf disease,” Conklin said. According to CAES, little is known about the the biology of the pathogen that causes the disease, so there have been no effective control or eradication measures prepared.

The issue became local when Conklin began observing the symptoms of the fast-spreading disease recently in town.

“In recent weeks, I have observed premature leaf drop in our open spaces and the beech trees are showing signs of the disease,” Conklin said, adding there is no known method for Wilton to employ to prevent further spread.

Conklin made Wilton’s Board of Selectmen aware of the problem last week.

He and his department have also been in contact with the state. “They are monitoring the situation,” he said.

For those who may not know how to spot a beech tree, Conklin said it is typically the tree that residents will see people’s initials carved into, due to the softness of its bark.

He also said the town has already been facing another pesky issue in its forests — the emerald ash borer — a beetle that burrows its way into, feeds on, and eventually kills ash trees.

Some of the town’s most affected areas are Bradley Park and Town Forest, Conklin said.

Conklin proposed that the town think of drafting an announcement for residents in September, when most vacationers return from their coastal hangs, to make Wiltonians aware what is going on in their backyards.

The town is also not currently suggesting the trees be taken down or removed prematurely, in anticipation of beech leaf disease or the emerald ash borer. The more appropriate plan of action is to plant a diversity of tree types throughout town in the coming months.

“The Department of Environmental Affairs is currently in the process of researching native trees,shrubs and perennials to plant this fall,” Conklin said. “Location in the landscape and plant availability often dictate the native plants that are planted in our open spaces.”