Picture: Steve Swan, Mayor Pro Tem, Carrie Burns, City Forester
The City of Lakeway wrote in its award nomination that it has developed an oak wilt suppression program that is among the best in the state. After reviewing their program, the judges agreed! Despite its small population of 10,000 residents, Lakeway not only supports a full-time forester devoted to oak wilt management but also funds all oak wilt trenching costs with city general funds. Lakeway’s 16-year extraordinary dedication to oak wilt suppression has only grown and strengthened over time.
In 1988, when the Texas Forest Service first confirmed oak wilt in Lakeway, the City was quick to embrace the Texas Oak Wilt Suppression Project. City officials decided in the very beginning that oak wilt trenches on private property would be funded with public money since the entire community benefits. The Diseased Tree Ordinance, passed in 1988 and updated in 1996 and 2001, laid the groundwork for oak wilt management in Lakeway.
Between 1989 and 1999, the city installed fourteen oak wilt trenches with technical assistance and cost share refunds from the Texas Forest Service. Unfortunately, Lakeway’s housing boom set the stage for new oak wilt infections. By 2000, twelve oak wilt centers had been identified within the city’s ten square mile area. In February 2001, with the assistance of a Texas Forest Service grant, Lakeway officials hired the city’s first urban forester.
Trench installation has been the cornerstone of the city’s oak wilt program. Since 1989, Lakeway has spent almost $239,000 on twenty oak wilt trenching projects. One trench installed in 2003 is responsible for over half of that total cost. At a net cost to the city of over $120,000. The Vanguard project stands as the single most expensive oak wilt trenching project completed to date in Texas. Today’s price of $26 per linear toot is a far cry from the city’s net cost of $0.75 per foot in 1989, but the expense is still justified by the value of hundreds of oaks that are saved.
Despite rapidly rising cost, Lakeway officials stand firm in their resolve to preserve the urban forest, a stance that is supported by the community at large. City council members agree “Lakeway wouldn’t be Lakeway without the oaks.”
Since 2001, the city broadened the program to include prevention, detection, monitoring and particularly public outreach. The City Forester published newspaper and newsletter articles, added informational inserts to utility bills, broadcasted reminders over the city radio station and hosted public meetings. In addition, City Forester Carrie Burns created an oak wilt page for the city website. Continued efforts to promote oak wilt education and prevention should pay off in years to come with a reduction in the number of new oak wilt infections.
The City of Lakeway’s oak wilt suppression program serves as a model for other small cities, particularly those that are just now beginning to face increased development pressure.
Congratulations to the City of Lakeway.