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Invasive Insect Moving Further into Southern Vermont

An invasive insect has been discovered moving further into the forests of Southern Vermont. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard brings us a report about a migrating pest.

According to the State of Vermont, the hemlock wooly adelgid – a tiny invasive insect – has been found for the first time in Bennington County in the town of Pownal. The insect, which feeds on the sap from hemlock trees, was first brought to the US from Japan in the 1950s. In Vermont, the animal was first found in neighboring Windham county five years ago.

Tim Schmalz, plant pathologist with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, says that precautions are being taken to slow the spread of the insect, which can cause serious damage to hemlock populations.

The wooly adelgid likely arrived naturally from neighboring Massachusetts. Dave Orwig, a forest ecologist at Harvard Forest, says that the insect has been established in the Bay State since 1989, when it was first discovered in the Springfield area.

According to Orwig, in more recent years, the insect was also found in North Central Massachusetts, as well as the Berkshires. He says that the insect kills the hemlock trees by feeding on sap.

Mark Whitmore, a researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY said that warmer temperatures, including this year’s mild winter, may have something to do with the seeming accelerated spread of the insect across the Northeast.

Tim Schmalz said that the tiny, wooly animal can be controlled in isolated locations with various pesticides, but a danger still persists.

In the Northeast, Eastern Hemlocks play an important role in shading streams, which helps protect habitat for fish populations, including trout. The tree also provides habitat for various species of birds.

The insect has been established in the Northeast for several years, but citizens in Vermont who spot the wooly adelgid on hemlock trees are asked to report their findings to a local office of the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.