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Effort Launched To Control Spread Of Invasive Insect In Lake George

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

After the recent discovery of an invasive forest pest near Lake George, a new effort is being launched to prevent the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid.

The eastern or Canadian hemlock is a dominant and historically significant conifer in New York State. But it continues to face a tiny threat.

The hemlock woolly adelgid, of HWA, a teeny insect with white, fluffy-looking egg sacs, was first reported in New York state in 1985. Up here, in the northern end of its range, the small bugs that feed on young twigs of eastern hemlock trees can kill a tree in four to 10 years.

The invasive pest originally hailing from East Asia has spread throughout much of New York state, but the Adirondacks have been thought to have been relatively shielded from HWA.

But after a recent discovery on the shores of Lake George, New York state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, academics, and environmental advocates are racing to contain potential spread. It’s called the Save Our Lake George Hemlocks Initiative.

Here’s Eric Siy, Executive Director of the FUND for Lake George.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck, all-in, all-out effort to save our Lake George hemlocks,” said Siy.

A population of HWA was discovered in 2017 on Prospect Mountain in Lake George, and an eradication effort was put in place with good results.

But three years later, about a dozen miles away, another population was discovered at a state campground, said Rob Davies, Director of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests and New York State Forester.

“It was a camper at the Glen Island Campground that did find it, reported it to us, and we were able to go out and point surveyors on the ground and indeed confirm that there was hemlock woolly adelgid,” said Davies.

Surveyors combed the area and identified the infestation on 250 acres along 1.5 miles on the eastern shore of Lake George.

Zack Simek of the Adirondack Invasive Plant Program said a more extensive survey effort will be conducted from the northern edge of Lake George south to the area around Troy, previously thought to be the northern edge of established HWA populations.

“So across this 4,400 square mile area, we will bring to bear remote sensing technologies to help identify stands of hemlock trees with the declining health signature that could potentially signal infestation of HWA and warrant additional on the ground efforts,” said Simek.

From the air, lost needles or a grayish tint might signify an HWA infestation.

The state says the most effective way to control the spread of the insect is with insecticides sprayed on the bark of the tree.

Davies says the goal is to begin treating trees this year to prevent further spread northward next spring.

“We are absolutely confident that we can control this infestation and ultimately, over several years – this is not going to be a one-year, one-time treatment – over several years we are confident we can eliminate this infestation,” said Davies.

While the state says insecticides are the most effective way of eliminating HWA currently, biological methods of control are being researched.

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Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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