Onondaga County joins efforts to eradicate an invasive species plaguing local trees
Hemlock Woolly Adelgids are an invasive species of insect that feed on the sap of Eastern Hemlock trees, eventually killing them.
This process can take anywhere from four to 10 years until an Eastern Hemlock dies. In the Skaneateles and Otisco Lake watersheds, where hemlocks are abundant, the presence of the insects is in its seventh year.
Dr. Melissa Fierke, a forest entomology professor at SUNY’s college of Environmental Science and Forestry, said that these tiny insects can have a devastating effect on the habitats where they settle.
“If you don't have the trees along the tributaries, then you're going to get more soil going into the streams, which are then going to cover the rocks, and then you're not going to get the insects reproducing in the streams, and then that's going to affect both of those things will affect your fish and your fisheries,” said Fierke.
She said Eastern Hemlocks are crucial to the health of their habitats and highly revered by environmental experts.
“A lot of folks call them, like a habitat keystone species, for some of these areas that we like to go sit under the hemlock tree along the creek,” she said.
The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is originally from Asia and Fierke said that it was first detected in the US in Virginia during the 1950s after most likely being brought over on a potted plant. Then, somehow, it made its way to New York.
“Despite it not having a flying part of the life cycle, it's managed to come all the way up to New York now,” said Fierke.
Efforts to mitigate the situation were made in 2015, when Onondaga County’s Soil and Water Conservation District, Department of Water, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County planted 100 Eastern Hemlocks in the county.
Additionally, Mark Whitmore, a forest entomologist at Cornell University and the director of the New York State Hemlock Initiative, is even introducing predatory species into ecosystems inhabited by Hemlock Woolly Adelgids.
“Our thought is that by establishing biological controls on the East Coast, hopefully, we'll be able to keep the populations of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid to levels where they're not damaging the trees,” said Whitmore.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative recently gave the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District a $50,000 to help save the Hemlocks.
The project is a partnership between the county’s district, the Skaneateles Lake Association and the Otisco Lake Preservation Association. Its manager, Teresa Link, said that she expects the grant to go a long way.
“We figured out we're going to try to do about 21,000 diameter inches of trees,” she said.
That works out to treatment of about 1,500 Hemlocks that will hopefully eradicate the insects. Link said that their efforts should last quite a while.
“Our treatment that we're going to do lasts like five to seven years. So it actually will go a long way,” said Link.
It is a two-year grant, so Link has quite a while to use it, but she says one challenge is the restrictions on the amount of insecticides they can use.
“So we can't treat all the trees and no one, not even private landowners should be treating all of the trees,” she said.
Her team has already started scouting the Skaneateles watershed for hemlocks that need treatment and plan to treat them by the end of the year, at which point they’ll turn their efforts to Otisco Lake.