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Triple Trouble

Three New Terrestrial Invasives Threaten the Forests of the Lake George Watershed

Triple Trouble May 17, 2023
Photo of trees.

In the years since the Lake George Park Commission started its mandatory boat inspection program in 2014, not one of the scores of aquatic invasive species dwelling in other New York lakes and rivers  – round goby, quagga mussel and hydrilla, among them – has found a niche here.

Land-based invasive species, however, are another matter altogether.

Within the past six years, three new nonnative terrestrial pests have emerged to threaten the forests of the Lake George watershed.

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

In July, 2017, Dr. David Orwig, an ecologist from the Harvard Research Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, happened to be climbing Lake George’s Prospect Mountain when he spotted a small cluster of Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (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 at ten other locations around Lake George, most notably on Dome Island and most recently in June, 2022, on state-owned Turtle and Mohican Islands.

Emerald Ash Borer Arrives in Warren County

The year 2020, it appears, was annus horribilis for invasive species in the Lake George region.

That summer, Emerald Ash Borer, a foreign beetle, was discovered in Warren County, near the bridge that crosses the Schroon River at Chestertown and Horicon. 

Last summer, the pest was found in the Town of Lake George, near Hearthstone Park, where, perhaps, it arrived via a camper’s firewood.

The Department of Environmental Conservation now warns us that another threat to our forests, Beech Leaf Disease (BLD) is on its way.

First discovered in 2018 in western New York, by 2022, BLD had spread to Herkimer County, a portion of which lies within the Adirondack Park and which borders three other counties with Forest Preserve lands. More counties are likely to become infested with BLD this year, the DEC stated.

And no doubt more are on their way. More than 70 terrestrial invasive species have been documented in the Adirondack region, and species like small carpetgrass, Japanese hops and oak wilt can be found just beyond the Blue Line.

As terrestrial invasive species proliferate, so, too, do educational programs, forest surveys and controls – some more effective than others.

Can Invasives be Stopped?

Since New York has the highest number of terrestrial invasives in the nation, we should expect our legislators to be the organizers and leaders of the effort to halt the importation of foreign pests. New York alone spends more than $15 million

every year to fight invasive species.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, for example, has sponsored what she has named the “Stamp Out Invasive Species Act,” which, according to her office, would require the United States Postal Service to issue a “Combating Invasive Species Semipostal Stamp.” Proceeds from the sale of stamps would be distributed to federal programs that combat invasive species. 

Stefanik first introduced the bill in 2016. It recently made it out of the House Natural Resources Committee, but the legislation has never passed both houses and become law.

Stefanik said she introduced the bill in part to raise awareness about the threat invasive species pose to Upstate New York and North Country ecosystems.

According to David Orwing, the Harvard Forest ecologist who discovered HWA on Prospect Mountain, the introduction of nonnative species to North America is, in part, an unintended consequence of international trade: shippers’ solid-wood packaging material is the primary vector for wood-boring pests.

Orwig and the late Dr. Gary Lovett, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in Millbrook, New York, argued that shipping companies should be forced to use non-solid-wood packaging materials for pallets and shipping crates.

Other recommendations included improving procedures in foreign countries to ensure that shipments are pest-free before they leave, and increasing penalties on shipping companies that don’t comply with regulations. 

Before his death in December, 2022, Gary Lovett appealed to Rep. Stefanik to support legislation codifying the ecologists’ recommendations as law.

“The spread of Hemlock Wooly Adelgid cannot be stopped, at least not without the aid of biological controls,” Lovett told the Lake George Mirror last fall. “But with political will, we may be able to stop the next invasive forest pest from getting into the country.”

Containing the Spread of Invasives

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also wants to “hold importers accountable for bringing invertebrates like Emerald Ash Borer into the country,” though doesn’t say how.

Preventing the introduction of nonnative species into the US is the most effective way to combat them; once established, they are almost impossible to eliminate.

According to the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, there is, as yet, no statewide or regional program to treat ash trees infected by EAB.  

To contain an infestation, DEC officials recommend that infected ash trees be felled and that the wood be left behind, to be burned or chipped on site.

Early detection reduces the cost of removing and replacing a tree, the DEC stated.

To limit the spread of EAB, DEC tries to prevent the transportation of firewood beyond a fifty-mile radius.

The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), based at the Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley, recommends that firewood be “a hyperlocal purchase.”

Beeches Under Threat

Speaking at the Adirondack Invasive Species Summit on October 19, an event sponsored by APIPP and held in Blue Mountain Lake, Gary Lovett said that “almost every beech tree in the Adirondacks shows some evidence of Beech Bark Disease.”

Over the past five decades, Beech Bark Disease “has changed the structure Adirondack forests forever,” Lovett said.

(A few years ago, Beech Bark Disease was discovered on Dome Island for the first time; for decades, it was thought that Dome’s isolated location and protected status had inoculated it against the disease.)

Lovett also discussed Beech Leaf Disease, first detected in Ohio in 2012 and which scientists believe is associated with a particular species of worm. 

According to the DEC, Beech Leaf Disease will kill mature trees in six to ten years and saplings in as little as two years.  As with EAB, there is no known treatment for infested trees.

Combatting Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

Unlike EAB and beech diseases, scientists have developed tools to combat Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.

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.

But according to Dr. Mark Whitmore, Director of the NYS Hemlock Initiative at Cornell University, 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.

Crowd-Sourced Monitoring

After the discovery of HWA in 2020 near Paradise Bay, the DEC, APIPP, the New York Hemlock Initiative, the Nature Conservancy and the Lake George Land Conservancy mobilized and coordinated a comprehensive survey to identify and treat infestations of HWA throughout the Lake George watershed.

These organizations are undertaking similar efforts to monitor Adirondack forests for HWA and other terrestrial invasives.

In March, for example, the Lake George Land Conservancy, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program hosted an educational session at Lake George’s Hearthstone Park, the site of an HWA infestation. 

Those who registered for the session learned how to use iMapInvasives as a way to report the new infestations.

APIPP has also begun to teach people to identify and report beech leaf disease with training sessions and with publications, such as the newly released “Field Guide to Terrestrial Invasive Species of the Adirondacks,” which helps people identify not only BLD, but the 70 invasive plants and animals found in the Adirondacks.

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