PIEDMONT -- A group of volunteers hit the trail last weekend to help UC Berkeley researchers in their fight against sudden oak death, which is found in 14 coastal California counties from Monterey to Humboldt.

Called a "SOD Blitz," the local volunteers, including City Councilmember and biologist Garrett Keating, fanned out to examine California bay laurels in town, hosts to the pathogen that spreads to nearby oaks such as coast live oaks and tanoaks.

Bay leaves turning yellow and brown at the tips are signs that the disease is present in the bay laurels and can be transmitted to the oaks, which die from the inside outward. The laurels do not die from the disease, but are carriers, Keating said.

Timely detection is the key to inhibiting the spread of the disease, say scientists from UC Berkeley's Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory.

Keating and others attended a recent training seminar to learn what to look for. His group visited several private sites, including two EBMUD reservoir lands in town, Wildwood Canyon down to Oakmont, Moraga Canyon into Blair Park, a path up to Abbott Way and Maxwellton Road. Some homeowners learned of the blitz and agreed to let the volunteers onto their properties.

They gathered five samples of suspected infection on bay laurels, which were delivered to the UC Berkeley lab. They also used their smartphones to pinpoint GPS coordinates for the researchers to identify possible problem trees. The lab will check the specimens for entry into their database.


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Dave Frankel, a certified arborist and public works supervisor for the city, was to survey all the city parks and public areas on Wednesday and Thursday, assisted by fellow city arborist Nick Millosovich and city workers.

They will collect whatever suspicious samples they find and turn them into the pathology lab Friday. Frankel does not believe the disease is widespread in town, but warrants monitoring. If oaks were near an infected bay laurel, the laurel might be removed, Frankel said.

"The disease is around, and it's important to take advantage of this free program," Frankel said.

Other cities interested in organizing a SOD blitz should email Dr. Matteo Garbelotto at matteog@berkeley.edu. Allow at least six months before the desired blitz date to allow for proper organization.

For more information, visit www.suddenoakdeath.org or www.cnr.berkeley.edu/garbelotto/english/sodblitzintro.php.