On Wednesday, July 25, 2017 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) had been discovered in the Adirondack Park, at Prospect Mountain in Lake George. DEC is fully underway with measures to eliminate the Prospect Mountain HWA outbreak and contain its spread.
Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) members and supporters have been watching for this devastating forest pest in the Adirondack Park and other public lands across New York State for the past three years. In 2014 ADK members from the Niagara Frontier Chapter in western New York attended a Citizen Science Forest Pest Monitoring workshop in Allegany State Park with New York State Office of Parks (OPRHP) Invasive Species Control Field Director Robert O’Brien, who explained the threat of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) (Adelges tsugae) to the Eastern Hemlock species (Tsuga canadensis).
The impact that the loss of hemlocks, a foundation species, would have on the Adirondacks would be severe, especially in areas like Lake George, Keene Valley, and in much of the Lake Champlain Basin (including its far edge in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest and the St Regis Canoe Area) where hemlocks are very dense.

Foundation species are critical species in the habitats they help create. In the case of hemlocks they moderate stream water temperatures for trout and other animals, provide a buffer for nutrient inputs to maintain water quality, stabilize shallow soils especially in steep gorges, provide shelter for animals and plants which is especially important in winter, provide critical habitat for migrating neo-tropical birds, and provide acidic substrate for lichens.

Anyone who has hiked, paddled, or driven through the Adirondack Park should realize what we will lose. If we do not act quickly, we are likely to lose the species.

We only need look to places such as the Great Smoky Mountains for an example of the devastation in store for the Adirondacks. Closer to home, decline of hemlocks is already well underway in the Catskills. HWA has been advancing quickly through New York State, and now it is in the Adirondack Park.

You can help prevent the loss of hemlocks in the Adirondack Park

What happens when HWA is discovered? In 2014 Cornell University’s Mark Whitmore and the Department of Conservation (DEC) and Cornell University conducted a model early detection response to HWA in the Zoar Valley, treating almost 600 hemlocks to help them resist HWA until biological controls can be successfully introduced. OPRHP has conducted a smaller scale, but similar response in the Allegany State Park. In the Adirondack Park, only two trees were found to be infested with HWA at Prospect Mountain. DEC is now evaluating how to eradicate the infestation and keep it from spreading.

The longer term response for HWA management involves using biological controls such as the predator beetle, Laricobius nigrinus, also known as ‘Little Larry.’  ADK successfully advocated for the state funding needed to begin the propagation of these biological predators in Cornell University laboratories with their College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and NYS Hemlock Initiative.

If we do not act, we are looking at a complete change to the face of the Adirondacks with resulting impacts to environment and economy that would come from such wide-spread habitat destruction and change. The time to act was yesterday, but if we act now, there is still hope to save hemlock stands in the Adirondack Park.

Backcountry Forest Monitors Workshops are co-hosted by the Foothills Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and NYS Hemlock Initiative, NYS Natural Heritage Program (iMapInvasives), NYS Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Lake George Land Conservancy, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), and the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP).