SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Schenectady County officials would like to stop an invasive hemlock-killing insect in its tiny tracks.
The hemlock woolly adelgid has been found in hemlock trees throughout the county, including in the county-owned Plotterkill Nature Preserve in Rotterdam, where the county has chemically treated infested trees. This year, plans call for expanding those efforts to the Indian Kill preserve in Glenville, another scenic county-owned nature preserve.
Chemical treatments have some success against the invader, which has been found throughout much of the Northeast and whose impacts result in the slow death of infected hemlock trees, one of the Northeast's most common evergreens.
County legislators heard about a proposed hemlock woolly adelgid management plan earlier this week and are scheduled to adopt it at a meeting next Tuesday in Schenectady. The plan was developed by the Schenectady County Invasives Committee, which included citizens and specialists.
“The Plotterkill and Indian Kill and other county properties are a high priority," said Jessica Cancelliere, a state Department of Environmental Conservation research scientist who is also a member of the committee. “We have an opportunity to sen an example and keep the adelgid from reaching the Adirondacks."
Hemlocks are one of the major tree species in the Northeast. The adelgid feeds on their needles, drawing nutrition from the tree and eventually causing death. Signs of infestation include dry or discolored needles, loss of needles, and dead branches.
The adelgid is a native of Japan and China. It was first seen in the eastern United States sometime around 1950, and has spread since then. It was found in New York state in 1985. It is now found from Georgia to Maine, according to DEC, though is has yet to spread into the northern parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The adelgid was first found in some trees in the Plotterkill Preserve in April 2017, and by November of that year DEC had treated about 250 of the trees with chemical insecticides.
Goals of the plan include surveying the distribution of the county's hemlock trees, monitoring for both new infestations and effectiveness of treatment efforts, coordinating with other invasive species programs, making recommendations and conducting outreach and education.
“It provides a very solid basis for us to be able to coordinate activities within the county," said Mary Werner, co-chairwoman of the committee and a member of the Schenectady County Environmental Advisory Council.
Cancelliere warned of the effects the insect could have on the trees on the 632-acre Plotterkill Preserve, noting that many hemlock there sit on steep slopes, providing shade for the Plotterkill that keeps the stream cool enough for fish. "There would be erosion without them, and it would change the character of the Plotterkill Preserve," she said during a presentation to the County Legislature.
Hemlocks, which can live up to 300 years, are a tree typically found in older, mature forests, Cancelliere said.
With the invader now found in forests throughout the southern part of New York state, Cancelliere said that while DEC is working with Cornell University researchers on developing natural predators for the adelgid, pesticides will be used to control them in the meantime. “We’re just trying to save what we can until a better solution comes along," Cancelliere said.
The county management plan focuses on lands owned or controlled by the public, including the Plotterkill and Indian Kill preserves, the county forest in Duanesburg, town and city parks and preserves, and areas along the Mohawk-Hudson bike path.
Werner added that the insect has also been found on private properties in Schenectady. They were found in Vale Cemetery in the city in 2018.
The county's Invasive Committee was formed in 2016 as part of the Environmental Advisory Committee. Members include representatives from DEC, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Capital Mohawk Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, Union College, and volunteers.
“This is a collaborative effort of many different agencies," said County Legislator Holly Vellano, C-Rotterdam, chairwoman of the county's Committee on Environmental Conservation, Renewable Energy and Parks.
People with hemlocks on their property should look for tiny woolly masses about the size of a tiny cotton swab on the underside of branches at the base of needles. Needle loss, branch dieback and and gray-tinted foliage are other clues.
People can email photos to the DEC at [email protected], for confirmation of infestation and guidance on what to do.