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Lake George Hemlock Coalition Formed to Fight HWA

Lake George Hemlock Coalition Formed to Fight HWA June 26, 2024
The LGLC’s Land Steward, Alex Novick, surveying preserves for HWA.
The LGLC’s Land Steward, Alex Novick, surveying preserves for HWA.

A new coalition of groups working within the Lake George watershed has been awarded a $108,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to develop a unified, comprehensive approach to the protection of the area’s hemlock forests, now under siege from an invasive pest, the Hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA).

“The population of hemlocks in the Lake George is as dense as you will find anywhere in its entire range,” said Tammara Van Ryn, director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP.) “That in itself is amazing. But it’s no less amazing that we have such a wide variety of partners interested in keeping these hemlocks alive.”

As of now, the Lake George Hemlock Coalition comprises: the  Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program of The Nature Conservancy (APIPP); the  Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board (LCLGRPB); the Lake George Association (LGA); the Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC); the  Lake George Park Commission (LGPC); the  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC); the NYS Hemlock Initiative of Cornell University; Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District;  and Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District.

According to Van Ryn, “the coalition realizes that we first have to identify the priority hemlocks stands. These will become the reservoirs of healthy hemlocks that, we hope, will survive for generations to come.”

Identifying those “priority hemlock stands” will be part of the coordinated plan for the management of HWA throughout the Lake George watershed, stated a press release from the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board, which secured the Lake Champlain Basin Program grant.

“We have been engaged in a process to define what is meant by ‘high value,’ using a very data-driven approach. And we believe that whatever we learn on Lake George will work elsewhere,” said Van Ryn.

Hemlocks are a Foundational Species

Wide-spread hemlock mortality would contribute to the degradation of the lake’s water quality, said Van Ryn.

“Hemlock is a foundational species in the Lake George watershed; it’s one of those species that creates the forest’s infrastructure,” said Van Ryn.  “Hemlocks cool the tributaries and keep steep slopes stabilized, preventing sediments from eroding into the lake. Moreover, when there’s large-scale hemlock die-off, more nitrogen washes into the lake.”

According to Van Ryn, HWA was first observed on Lake George in 2017, when Dr. David Orwig, an ecologist from the Harvard Research Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, happened to be climbing Prospect Mountain, where he spotted a small cluster of HWA in a stand of three hemlocks.

Three years later, in 2020, those trees were declared pest-free after being treated with chemicals. 

That very same summer, however, a camper alerted the Department of Environmental Conservation to an infestation of HWA north of Shelving Rock.

Since then, HWA has been found in several hundred places, including Hearthstone Park, Dome Island and on the state-owned Turtle and Mohican Islands.

“One of the first things we did in 2020 was to initiate a survey, and in the past four years, we have visited more than 3,800 locations,” said Van Ryn.

According to Mike Horn, the executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy, HWA was discovered in 2023 at the Clark Hollow Bay Preserve on northern Lake George, which the Conservancy purchased in 2022.

“That was alarming for a number of reasons,” said Horn.  “HWA had yet to be found that far north. And we had a commitment to protect this 60-acre forest with a half mile of undeveloped shoreline, which is adjacent to another two and a half miles of undeveloped shoreline, which the Lake George Land Conservancy acquired before transferring it to New York State.”

Fortunately, Horn continued, “we weren’t starting from scratch; we’ve been working with different partners for four years.”

The Lake George Land Conservancy discovered HWA on Dome Island in October, 2020, where APIPP has treated roughly 430 trees with insecticides every year.

At Clark Hollow Bay Preserve, the Lake George Land Conservancy has developed a treatment plan that utilizes both chemicals and biological controls.

According to the DEC, insecticides are, at present, the most effective method of controlling HWA. Two different insecticides, one fast-acting, killing the insect before it can reproduce, the other affording the tree long-term protection, are applied to bark near the base of the tree and absorbed through its tissue. When HWA attaches itself to the tree to feed, it receives a dose of the pesticide and is killed.

Dr. Mark Whitmore, Director of the NYS Hemlock Initiative at Cornell University, believes biological controls offer the best hope of eliminating HWA as a permanent threat to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Once established, these populations of beetles and silver flies will expand and spread beyond the original points of introduction, becoming a permanent check on Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.

Silver flies were released at Clark Hollow Bay Preserve this past spring. Beetles were released last fall.

“We’re very excited,” said Horn. “We hope the natural predators establish themselves and create a long-term, cyclical, predator-prey balance.”

Preserving High Priority Hemlock Stands

The discovery of HWA at the Clark Hollow Bay Preserve was among the things that impressed the need for something like a Lake George Hemlock Coalition upon Horn’s mind.

“Even if we are able to successfully treat 60 acres, that’s a drop in the bucket. It has been estimated that there are roughly 40,000 acres of hemlocks in the Lake George watershed,” said Horn.

To save the hemlock ecosystem “would require a response plan, one that takes into account the magnitude of the problem and the scarcity of resources,” Horn said. 

That recognition led to discussions with groups such as APIPP, the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board and the Lake George Park Commission about the possibility of a Lake George Hemlock Coalition.

A Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Response Plan

Once priority Hemlock stands are identified, they will be monitored. Where appropriate, insecticides and or biological controls will be deployed, said Van Ryn.

According to the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, the Coalition’s hemlock protection plan will be provided to municipal officials, who may be responsible for infrastructure damaged by dead or dying hemlocks, or who may be required to respond to constituents alarmed by the loss of hemlocks. 

While the full plan will be developed over the course of a year, the work of identifying and protecting priority hemlock stands could begin as soon as this summer, a press release from the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board stated. “We now have an opportunity to protect one of our most important resources,” said Dave Wick, the Lake George Park Commission’s executive director. “If we’re successful, it will be due to partnership, and we have all the elements of that partnership in place: organizations, agencies and municipalities. We are in a position to make a distinctive change in the future of the watershed.”

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