Biologists are attacking tree-killing pests with bug-eating beetles in a southern Schoharie County park as part of a battle against invasive species.
About 500 beetles were flown in from the state of Washington and released last month in an area of Mine Kill State Park that’s being attacked by hemlock woolly adelgids, tiny bugs that are tearing their way through forests from Georgia to Maine.
The hemlock woolly adelgid is a sap-sucking native of East Asia first discovered in the southeast Appalachian Mountains in the 1960s. It’s able to kill hemlock trees in just a few years by latching onto them and eating stored starches — and hemlocks are New York state’s fourth most-abundant tree species, according to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Five hundred of the tiny beetles won’t solve the infestation, but the number of beetles is expected to multiply, said Casey Holzworth, regional natural resources steward for the state agency.
“The idea is we need to get them started,” Holzworth said.
The project involved staff from Mine Kill State Park and the efforts of the Catskill Region Invasive Species Partnership, headquartered at The Catskill Center in Arkville, Delaware County.
Holzworth said the beetles, members of the tooth-necked fungus beetle family called laricobius nigrinus, didn’t cost any money because of a partnership with Cornell University professor Mark Whitmore, who is receiving federal support for invasive species research.
The project was made easier, Holzworth said, by the help of volunteers organized by CRISP to search out infected trees over the past year. Students at SUNY Cobleskill also helped out by mapping critical infestations.
“It was really helpful,” Holzworth said of the volunteer and student work at the park.
Officials are greatly concerned with the impact the hemlock woolly adelgid can have on trees, especially because the insect appears to concentrate on trees near water. Many of the large hemlocks near the Mine Kill were found to be infected. So biologists went the direct route with those trees, applying a potent insecticide to their trunks.
Holzworth said the trees will absorb the insecticide, which will soak into the trees and eventually get eaten by the insects.
“We didn’t want to lose those big, impressive trees before the biocontrol takes effect,” Holzworth said.
Because insecticide use is a highly regulated process and hiring an arborist certified in pesticide application is expensive, officials hope the new beetles will multiply.
The hemlock woolly adelgid is still in the early stages of infecting Mine Kill State Park, and Holzworth said it has not yet led to a noticeable impact on the tree canopy.
That would be bad not only for the view at the park but also for nearby fish. The loss of tree canopy will increase water temperatures and make it harder for trout and other fish species to survive.
And large stands of dead hemlocks would increase the risk of forest fires and hurt the wood-product and tourism industries in the Catskills region.
Holzworth said it could take as many as 10 years before scientists can gauge the effectiveness of the new beetles.