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[whitespace] Tree A Sign of SOD: Dead leaves, bleeding bark and infestations of beetles are all symptoms of Sudden Oak Death, which has so far killed tens of thousands of oaks.


Tree Ebola?

Hundreds of beetles scuttling over tree trunks. Black fruiting bodies sprouting from bleeding bark. Leaves brown as paper bags. Oaks dead in a matter of weeks. What sounds like a scene from a Harry Potter novel is unfortunately very real in California. Since 1995, Sudden Oak Death has killed tens of thousands of tan oaks, live oaks and black oaks along the 190-mile range of coastline between Sonoma and Monterey counties--a situation that got Nüz asking Steve Tjosvold, environmental horticulture adviser for UC Cooperative Extension, if SOD is to oaks as Ebola is to humans.

"I know journalists like to put things in those kind of terms, but I'd rather you didn't," Tjosvold said, explaining that SOD is caused by a previously unknown species of Phytophthora, a fungus similar to that which triggered the Irish potato blight of the 1800s. As for the beetles, they're secondary harbingers of doom, only showing up once trees are already dying.

"We've only known that Sudden Oak Death is caused by a fungus for the last seven months. So it's not that things are getting dramatically worse, but that we know what we're looking for," said Tjosvold, referring to the discovery that SOD also kills wild huckleberry, Shreve's oak and rhododendron.

As for the recent finding that phosphonate all but eliminates SOD lesions, Tjosvold cautioned that it's premature to say that a cure has been found. "The research requires more tests, and since phosphonate was being used as a fertilizer, it will take regulations before it's approved as a pesticide."

Even if an effective pesticide could be developed, scientists don't know if it could stop SOD, given that the new Phytophthora moves through soil

and rainwater. According to Tjosvold, SOD could potentially affect 20 percent of California's trees--a frightening statistic that made Nüz pop the dreaded question: Could SOD conceivably spread to Douglas firs and redwoods, too? "I'm not saying it couldn't," is all Tjosvold would say, leaving Nüz plagued by images of a radically altered ecosystem, stripped of shade-giving fog catchers.

Of course, SOD isn't the first fungus to cause catastrophic tree diseases (think chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease) but it's a worrisome one. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt says the board supports a statewide SOD management plan that is being developed to regulate the sale and movement of host plants and deadwood. But when the specter of helicopters spraying forests with pesticide arose, Wormhoudt said, "The devil is in the details when it comes to hypothetical situations like that. Let's hope we never get there. Certainly, Santa Cruz is an impacted county, and our plan will come from the state."

Ron Enomoto, interim director at the UCSC Arboretum, told Nüz that the latest SOD infection is on Empire Grade Road and that there's also some along Highway 17. So, next time you're sitting in the gridlock on 17 heading for San Jose, look out for a bunch of oak trees whose leaves are the color of a paper bag. And instead of cursing the traffic, consider praying that the remaining trees do not SOD off. (Read about SOD online at http://camfer.cnr.berkeley.edu/oaks/).

An Almost Perfect No

The Santa Cruz City Council voted at its last meeting to pass a resolution against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a corporate-backed trade proposal modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.

"This is a picture-perfect example of grassroots democracy," said activist Marty Herrman of the Santa Cruz Coalition Against the FTAA (SCAFTAA). "Global change has to start at the local level."

Councilmember Mark Primack tried to convince other councilmembers not to support the resolution, saying, "This is not council business." The vote was 6-1 in favor.

Activists explained how the FTAA would affect people in Santa Cruz. Coalition member Sandino Gomez argued that free trade has already caused thousands of workers in Watsonville to lose their jobs. When the peso was devalued in the 1980s, Gomez explained, American companies moved production to a valley in Irapuato, Mexico, where labor standards are weaker.

According to the resolution, more than 1 million U.S. jobs have been lost since NAFTA was first implemented, due to such company relocations. "The FTAA would be essentially an extension of NAFTA to the entire Western Hemisphere," the resolution states.

Several coalition members plan to join demonstrators outside the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City, April 20-22, in an effort to prevent delegates from passing the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal. Said activist Jesse Nason, "Getting the City Council behind this is a good first step, but the real battle will be fought in Quebec and on the borders."

Dark Side of Fuzzy

Nüz would like to thank Veronica Elsie for clueing us into an surprisingly entertaining read: The Santa Cruz Municipal Code.

Elsie is the blind musician who almost single-handedly squelched a (dare we say it) fuzzily conceived effort to change pet owners into pet guardians.

Sure, there were others there--breeders worrying how they would "sell" dogs they no longer "owned," not to mention local resident June Shelton warning that any of us could, as guardians, be held responsible if the neighbor's cat pounced on an endangered rodent in our yard.

But it was Elsie, accompanied by her guide dog, an indefatigable black Labrador named L'Orange, who put the mockers on the G-word with her claim that people have been harassing her on the street. "They say it's horrible that I'm confining my dog in a harness and that he needs to be running free," Elsie said.

Elsie recommended that Nüz read the proposed revised ordinance, which contains some classic goof-ups, generated when the city electronically replaced "owner" with the word "guardian" throughout the code.

Nüz followed Elsie's advice--but got distracted upon discovering that according to the code "Bloodless Bullfights are prohibited" (meaning, Nuz wonders, that a bloody bullfight isn't? ). Even more startling was the statement that cats "shall be considered personal property."

Now, as Nüz and anybody who has ever shared their abode with a cat knows, cats do not have owners.

Cats have staff.

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From the March 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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