But Chip Bates of the Georgia Forestry Commission isn't willing to put it in that category yet.

"It is a true disease," said Bates, forest health coordinator. "It has decreased the population of redbay and sassafras in the eastern part of the state. But I don't see it as something that will totally eliminate redbay and sassafras. Remember where the survey was done. It was an isolated island that does have an overpopulation of deer."

Georgia Forestry surveys elsewhere on the coast have shown regrowth of trees 2-3 inches in diameter, Bates said.

"Are we going to lose all red bay? We don't think so," he said. "The population is going be severely diminished."

Still, efforts to curtail the spread of laurel wilt have failed, said Bates, citing one Georgia Forestry study on Jekyll Island.

"We cut down everything with signs of laurel wilt and skidded it out to the landfill and burned it," Bates said. "The idea was to cut it down and stop it. Three months later it didn't look like we had even been there."

One fungicide has shown some results but it must be injected into individual trees, making it too costly and time consuming a remedy for whole landscapes.

The upside of laurel wilt, if there is one, is that the disease served as a notice about invasive species coming into the port.

"This is a wakeup call to be more vigilant about how we work with partners at the port," Bates said.

Representatives from Georgia Forestry now conduct a pest risk management meeting every other month with other state and federal agencies including USDA Forestry, Georgia Department of Agriculture, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Operations, and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The forestry commission identified the Asian ambrosia beetle in 2002 in Port Wentworth, Bates said.

"We were somewhat told it wasn't going to be an issue," he said.

That won't happen again, he promised.

"Now when we find something new we don't ignore it," Bates said.