By Gwendolyn Craig
The bad news for Adirondack forests continues.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Tuesday that a camper in Washington County found the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid on the Glen Island Campground off the shores of Lake George. It is the second ever recorded infestation within the park.
The news follows last week’s announcement that the invasive emerald ash borer was found in Warren County near the Schroon River.
“It’s 2020 — why not?” said Jamie Brown, executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy, referring to the string of bad news the world has dealt with this year.
The focus had been on the opposite side of Lake George at Prospect Mountain, where hemlock woolly adelgid was found in 2017 and the surrounded trees subsequently treated. The closest known infestation is 30 miles away in southern Saratoga County, according to the DEC.
The Lake George Land Conservancy conducts invasive species surveys and runs educational programming on hemlock woolly adelgid. Brown said the land conservancy had been focused on the southern side of the lake in its inspections, but will plan to look more around Dresden and Putnam this winter. Winter is the best time to look for the woolly adelgid’s white clumpy masses underneath the tree’s needles.
The DEC estimates 10% of the Adirondack Park’s forest is hemlock trees, but many of them are in the Lake George wilderness area.
Tammara Van Ryn, of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, worries what could become of the forestlands around Lake George. During a trip to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, Van Ryn saw firsthand the devastation the bug can cause.
In areas where the forest should have been lush and dark green, needle-less trees stood.
“It was like walking through a ghost forest,” Van Ryn said. “It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to walk through so many areas of the Adirondacks, if all you saw was dead hemlocks.”
Brown is concerned, too, about the future of Lake George if the invaders attack more hemlocks. The trees help filter water running off the mountains into the lake. Their roots keep soil from eroding into the water, too. Both services keep nutrients from Lake George, which helps make it the clean drinking water source that it is today.
Stands of hemlocks are often found along streams, too, keeping waters cool for trout and other fish with a sensitive internal temperature gauge, Brown said.
The one piece of good news Brown finds in all of the bad is that a camper spotted the sick hemlock and reported it. It means public education is working, and citizen scientists around the lake are helping detect cases in a 6 million-acre park.
“Early detection remains a key tool in monitoring and addressing invasive species of all kinds, so continue to stay vigilant and informed to help protect our natural resources and economy,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release.
While emerald ash borer is notorious for hitchhiking via firewood or other wood products that people transport, woolly adelgid is sneakier.
Van Ryn said the bug can hop on a bird, squirrel or other woodland creature, in addition to manmade modes of transportation. The egg sacs are sticky, too, and make for easy Velcro transport. Brown said the bug can ride on the wind. It’s not clear how this latest outbreak occurred.
Generally, woolly adelgid can be treated with an insecticide, applied at the base of the hemlock. That is how the DEC treated the infected tree on Prospect Mountain.
“DEC is evaluating means to eradicate this infestation and prevent it from spreading. This will not include cutting down trees, which is not an effective means for controlling HWA (hemlock woolly adelgid) as it is with other invasive forest pests,” the agency said in a news release.
The state has used insecticides in the last three years at certain locations around the state.
To report a possible infestation of hemlock woolly adelgid, call DEC’s toll-free Forest Pest Information Line at 1-866-640-0652. For more information on hemlock woolly adelgid, go to Cornell’s New York State Hemlock Initiative or the DEC website.