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Scientists fear renewed threat to white pine trees

Bill Day of Oak Country Lumber measures white pine logs in Chichester, N.H. Thursday Oct. 31, 2013. American and Canadian scientists said Thursday that a fungus targeting white pine forests has mutated and could return more than a century after it first hit the country. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Bill Day of Oak Country Lumber measures white pine logs in Chichester, N.H. Thursday Oct. 31, 2013. American and Canadian scientists said Thursday that a fungus targeting white pine forests has mutated and could return more than a century after it first hit the country. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

A fungus targeting white pine forests has mutated and poses new threats more than a century after it first hit the United States, American and Canadian scientists said yesterday.

A mutant form of white pine blister rust was discovered by Cornell University researcher Kerik Cox in 2011 in Connecticut. After two years of study, scientists now believe a large number of host plants – called ribes – previously thought to be immune to the fungus are susceptible. Ribes include valuable niche crops such as black currants and gooseberries that are used in products from jam to vodka.

Spores from infected ribes are carried by wind to the pines where the fungus invades the tree, eventually killing it.

“This is a problem both for the forest industry and for growers (of ribes),” said Isabel Munck, a plant pathologist for the U.S. Forest Service based in Durham. She estimates up to half the plants previously thought to be immune have been found to be infected.

When the fungus first hit in 1909 and spread outward from New York state, a massive eradication effort, including a federal ban on planting ribes, helped stem the destruction. Still, within 13 years, about half the pines in New Hampshire were infected by the fungus, which is native to Asia and is believed to have hitchhiked here on an infected pine seedling from Europe.

Philippe Tanguay, a molecular forest pathologist with the Canadian Forest Service, said a genetic fingerprint of the new discovery determined it was a mutation of an existing strain of blister rust and not a new strain.

Several states, including New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, still ban the planting of certain varieties of currants and other ribes. In light of the 2011 discovery, New Hampshire will add the previously immune plants to the banned list, and Munck said other states may follow.

There are other treatments, including fungicides used on ribes, pruning of infected pine branches or removal of trees, she said.

It’s a worry in timbering states like New Hampshire and Maine and in Canada.

“Pine is still the king in New Hampshire,” said Kyle Lombard, the state’s forest health program manager. “We grow and cut more pine in New Hampshire than any other tree species.”

Eastern white pine is native to eastern North America. Munck said scientists are just getting a handle on the mutation, and part of the early effort will focus on outreach to other states.

“This is all brand new,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the real world, while the usual suspects on both sides argue this as a political issue . . . there is yet another potential disaster in the making for yet another of northern New England's tree species. If only we humans would stop grasping at the latest "shiny object" and focus on what really matters.

clearly this is Bush's fault

Is that supposed to be funny?

Itsa was better - I just started the ball rolling. Personally I believe that democrats wandering in the woods caused it.

No, no, it can ONLY be the fault of Republicans...we all know that the all knowing, self congratulatory, enlightened progressives are perfect and it is our fault because we have not gone along with their ideas.

You said it was Obama's fault that the toilet paper is smaller and since it comes from trees Obama is definitely to blame.

Tillie - that is false accusation that is a direct result of your lack of reading comprehension. If you post what I said and I did indeed state an NObama cause it then I will indeed post an apology. I dont expect the same from you

Yes it is, it is a mix of Bush's fault and globull warming. It is also the fault of the Republican's in the House and the tea party. Moreover, this fungus was not here until the Free Staters arrived but mostly we need to increase taxes. Yes a broad based income tax and sales tax and if we spend more on education, this would not have happened. Obama told us that if we liked these trees we could keep these trees. Did he lie????? Nah, must be conservatives or Rush Limbaugh....yeah, that's the ticket.......

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