College students and volunteers will be scouring Mine Kill State Park on Saturday, looking for bugs that are poised to wipe out all the hemlock trees on the 650-acre site.
Schoharie, Albany and Schenectady counties are the most recent chomping grounds of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive species taking a destructive toll on its path northward.
It’s already taken hold in places from Georgia to southeastern Maine and west to Kentucky and Tennessee, according to the website of the USDA Forest Service.
WHAT: Hemlock woolly adelgid training and survey
WHERE: NYPA Visitors Center and Mine Kill State Park, Route 30
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
COST: Free, with hot chili lunch to be provided.
Hemlocks are the fourth most-abundant trees in the Catskills. The sap-sucking adelgid can kill them within 10 years in the Northeast, quicker in warmer climates, said Molly Marquand, program coordinator at the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Program that’s planning this weekend’s survey.
“It’s an extremely important tree in our ecosystem and we just shouldn’t let it go,” she said.
Students at local SUNY colleges and volunteers from the invasive species program are planning to take part in the event, which will begin with a tutorial on how to spot the bug, which lives on the trees and feeds off of them.
Marquand said CRISP expects to draft a map pinpointing where the bugs have taken hold and find the leading edge of their spread.
“I think the goal would be finding out the range and extent of the infestation and I think that we need to start thinking about priority stands that we can preserve,” she said.
The workshop preceding the search will also teach participants how to check their own lands and determine if their trees are falling victim, she said.
The bug is already making its presence known at the picturesque Schoharie Valley park, Mine Kill environmental educator Mike Fagerstrom said.
“It is blatantly visible on the trees, but it’s in its infancy, I guess you can say,” he said.
The hemlock woolly adelgids are concentrated in the park’s southern section near the Mine Kill Creek and the adjacent New York Power Authority’s Blenheim-Gilboa lower reservoir, he said.
Marquand, an ecologist and botanist, said the fact that hemlocks are prolific in thin soils along waterways makes their loss even more disconcerting because of the potential impact on trout.
“They tend to grow on steep slopes in thin soils, along ravines overhanging streams. It’s really important to keep those kinds of micro habitats cool,” Marquand said.
Fagerstrom said people don’t have to be biologists to help out in Saturday’s survey. “This is a great opportunity for the layman to learn what it is and what you can do about it and realize it isn’t just exclusive to Mine Kill State Park. This is statewide, this is countrywide, this is nationwide.”