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Protecting Our Trails by Protecting Our Trees

Posted on Feb 1, 2017

Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking through Chautauqua County’s trails is an experience like none other. The area features beautiful rolling hills, deep valleys, wide open fields and thick forested tracts, tickling anyone’s sense of adventure. One such feature that is especially captivating is the large stands of thick conifers that darken the forest floor and create a cathedral effect for anyone blitzing beneath them. Of these trees, the Eastern Hemlock forms dense patches around streams and along steep slopes while nearly touching the trails with their long, snow bearing branches.

Though these hemlock trees create an awe-inspiring scene, they are slowly disappearing from the landscape. The increasing presence of an invasive insect, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, within New York State has been taking its toll on these redwoods of the east. These insects originate from Asia and were accidentally introduced in Virginia in the 1950’s. With no natural predators, the insect has spread to 18 states and over 25 counties here in NYS, including Chautauqua County. If we allow this invader to remain, the thick stands of hemlock that once encompassed many miles of trails will no longer be green and laden with snow. Rather, they will be skeletal forms of themselves, opening up the forest canopy and allowing trouble to rear its ugly head. Our trails depend upon the natural structure that exists. The hemlocks, and many other trees species, hold the soil in place and protect the trails from washing out. They also slow the snow melt, keeping snow on the trail for longer periods of time and preventing flooding. And the list goes on of all the services these trees carry out for our trail system where they exist.

In return for all the hemlock’s provisions, we can lend them a hand by simply searching for this invasive bug and reporting their presence to the proper authorities. On February 4th from 9:30am to 12:00pm, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and partners Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Jamestown Community College will be conducting a survey of the hemlocks surrounding the snowmobile and overland trails in North Harmony State Forest. They will also have educational materials available and staff and volunteers available to answer any questions. All are invited to join by sled, ski, snowshoe or foot (depending on weather conditions) to learn more and help us protect our valuable hemlocks. For those interested, please meet at the Rt. 474 Trailhead in Panama at 9:30am (snowmobile trail number S41), or if arriving late, head north on the snowmobile trail for about 300 yards to reach the survey area. We hope to see you there!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician