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Saving Dome Island’s Hemlocks

Saving Dome Island’s Hemlocks January 10, 2024
Dome Island in autumn. Mirror staff photo.
Dome Island in autumn. Mirror staff photo.

Dome Island is that rarest of things, an undisturbed piece of wilderness in the middle of Lake George, protected for the past seventy years by the Nature Conservancy and a committee of local volunteers and, in recent decades, by the Lake George Land Conservancy.

More than 60% of its forest canopy is composed of hemlocks, and every year since 2020, when hemlock wooly adelgid was first discovered among the evergreens’ needles and branches, the Nature Conservancy has treated the invasive pest with insecticides.  

This year’s chemical treatments ended in November, a press release from the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), a Nature Conservancy, New York State-funded program, stated.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 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 a 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.

The DEC recently treated HWA-infected trees at nearby Hearthstone Park, its public campground in Lake George.

“DEC is committed to working with APIPP to help protect Lake George’s critically important ecosystem,” said Jason Denham, state Department of Environmental Conservation forester. “The management of hemlock woolly adelgid on Dome Island is helping conserve hemlocks in the area and limit the spread of this invasive forest pest.”

The Lake George Land Conservancy discovered HWA on Dome Island in October, 2020, and later that month, the Nature Conservancy announced that it would use insecticides to try to protect the island’s forest cover.

“We realized that being a good steward of Dome Island would mean taking action to control HWA to protect its trees and to control the spread of the invasive to other areas within the Lake George watershed,” said APIPP Director Tammara Van Ryn.

Since 2020, APIPP has treated roughly 430 trees every year, or more than 1,700 trees.

The Nature Conservancy became the owner of Dome Island when John Apperson, the prominent Lake George conservationist, approached the organization in 1954 and offered to donate it if he could raise at least $20,000 to establish a fund that would protect the island in its natural state.

Among the original donors are such familiar Lake George names as E.F.W. Alexanderson, Dr. Katherine Blodgett, Harold Pitcairn and Rev. E.V. Stires, as well as several members of the Loines, Knauth, Reynolds, Langmuir, Melish, Summerhayes and Witherell families.

Other contributors included well-known conservationists such as Howard Zahniser, the head of the Wilderness Society, garden clubs, hiking clubs and boy scout troops. Theodore Edison, the son of Thomas A. Edison, promised to supply the remaining balance should donations fall short of the $20,000 goal.

The goal was reached, and in 1956, the island was transferred to the Eastern New York Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and a fund established to protect the island, which it continues to do to this day.

Revenues from that fund have helped pay for the hemlocks’ chemical treatments, said Henry Caldwell, chairman of the Dome Island Preserve Committee, which was formed at Apperson’s suggestion at the time he donated the island to the Nature Conservancy.

“John Apperson entrusted this island to The Nature Conservancy, and we are honored to carry out his wishes by being a responsible steward of this Lake George landmark,” said Peg Olsen, the Adirondack Director of The Nature Conservancy in New York.

A bronze plaque on the northwest end of Dome Island states that the island is to be preserved “for the visual enjoyment of the public and as an example of uninterrupted natural processes.”

Undisturbed since the 19th century, Dome Island has functioned as a wilderness laboratory since the early 1960s, shortly after Apperson donated it to the Nature Conservancy.

More recent studies have not only advanced important research about forests, soils and bird life, climate change and ambient air pollution, but will help control the spread of invasive pests such as hemlock wooly adelgid.

According to APIPP, HWA treatments on Dome Island will conclude next year, in 2024.  While the insecticides have been shown to inoculate hemlocks against HGWA for at least seven years, APIPP said its staff and that of the Lake George Land Conservancy will monitor the island to assess the effectiveness of the treatments.

“Hemlock trees in the Adirondacks stand a fighting chance with a combination of chemical and biological controls,” said Van Ryn. “With the strong partnerships already in place in the Lake George region, hemlocks can continue to feed and shelter wildlife, provide wood products and protect water quality for years to come.”

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