Officials discover Hawaii tree-killing disease on Kauai

HONOLULU (AP) — A disease that has killed trees on tens of thousands of acres on the Big Island has been detected on Kauai, Hawaii officials said.

State officials announced Friday that a team of experts is investigating rapid ohia death on Kauai after it was found in the Moloaa Forest Reserve, the first time the disease pathogen has been discovered outside the Big Island.

Kauai Division of Forestry and Wildlife botanist Adam Williams discovered symptoms associated with the disease in at least five trees in the remote area of the island.

The discovery prompted officials from state and federal agencies and nongovernment organizations to survey and test for the disease last week. Teams were also trained on how to identify the fungus.

Rapid ohia death has affected more than 135,000 acres of forest since it was discovered on the Big Island more than four years ago. Most of the tree deaths on the island were caused by the more aggressive pathogen known as Ceratocystis lukuohia.

On Kauai, officials found Ceratocystis huliohia, the less aggressive of the two species that cause rapid ohia death.

“If there is a silver lining to this, it isn’t the more aggressive form,” state protection forester Rob Hauff said. “However, we’re still going to treat this very serious. It’s a new incursion of a tree-killing disease, and we’re going to continue to survey and come up with a strategy about how best to deal with the situation.”

The more aggressive form can kill a tree in months. It can take years for a tree to die from the less aggressive pathogen, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said.

Officials ask that people refrain from transporting ohia trees from Kauai or moving its wood within the island.