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A Look at Hemlock Trees through the Eyes of a Conservation Intern

Posted on Jan 22, 2016

Written by Bryce Alexander, Conservation Intern
Edited by Melanie Smith, Communications Coordinator

Bryce-FP signs

Every time I walk through the local woods, I am always surprised by the number of Hemlock trees that are found in our forests. It’s weird to think though, that these trees are in great danger from an invasive species known as Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, also known as HWA. I have personally observed a large number of Hemlock trees, and luckily none of these appear have been affected by this invasive pest yet. Hemlock trees are an important part of the ecosystems in which they are found, and should therefore be monitored closely for HWA.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is an invasive species that has been attacking and killing Hemlock trees throughout the country. This invasive insect is native to different parts of Asia, and was first discovered in New York as early as 1985 (DEC). This tiny insect uses long mouth parts to extract sap and nutrients from Hemlock foliage, which prevents free growth causing the needles to discolor from a deep green to a grayish green (DEC). This causes the needles to drop prematurely, eventually resulting in the death of the tree over the course of a few years. During the winter, HWA can be easily recognized as little “snowball” like features on the underside and at the bases of the needles. HWA can become a major problem if it invades a local forest, especially if it goes undetected. There are several ways in which HWA can travel from area to area; birds and mammals, for example can transfer these tiny insects without even realizing it. Human activities such as moving firewood are also helping the spread of HWA around the country.

Help Me!

Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History along with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Jamestown Community College, are currently doing HWA surveys in our local forests in order to monitor for the spread of HWA. So far, surveys have been completed on properties owned and maintained by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy; Elms Flat Preserve and Dobbins’ Woods. Neither of these surveys turned up any signs of HWA, which is great news! However, there are areas in New York State that have been affected by HWA. As of November 2014, areas in the southern central region of New York had experienced invasion by HWA (DEC). Since then it has spread to parts of northern Chautauqua County as well as areas in Pennsylvania including Allegheny National Forest.

Hemlocks provide many ecological services, and these would be greatly disrupted if all these trees were to all die off. This is why early detection of this invasive pest is key in order to stop it before it spreads to new places and becomes an even bigger problem. My experience with this important work so far has involved conducting surveys with conservationists and other volunteers as well as hanging informative signs around Hemlock trees. So far it has been an amazing experience getting to meet other people who share a common conservation goal. Hemlock trees provide so many benefits to their ecosystem, it’s scary to think that an invasive pest could have such a serious negative impact on these amazing trees! •

Harris Hill State Forest

If you feel inspired by Bryce’s message, you too can be a part of this effort! Additional surveys are scheduled at several locales over the next two months. In fact, there’s one happening tomorrow at Cassadaga Creek Preserve in Stockton, NY! Click here for more information.

Learn it, Love it, Protect it!