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Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Could Threaten The Finger Lakes

Hemlock Finger Lakes Erosion WEB

ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — The hemlock woolly adelgid is no larger than a pencil eraser, but the non-native species could wreak havoc on the hemlock population in the Finger Lakes, potentially leading to downstream effects.

The hemlock woolly adelgid is native to the northwestern United States, but has spread across areas of the northeast in recent years. Over the winter months, the insects take cover in white balls of what looks like cotton or wool on the limbs of hemlock trees. Even during the winter, they’re sucking up the sap of the trees, ultimately killing them entirely.

According to Dana Hall, President of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, and a volunteer on the HWA initiative, the adelgid poses a threat not only to the hemlock trees, but to the entire watershed the line across the Finger Lakes.

"Picture these ravines and gorges and so forth as having steep to very steep sides, hemlocks growing on those lips and on those sides are what are holding the soil in place,” Hall said during a presentation at the Bob Brower Scientific Symposium, a Zoom event hosted by OWLA over the weekend.

If the hemlocks are killed off, or even severely damaged, they could tumble into gorges, bringing severe erosion into many of the watersheds feeding the lakes, and in turn the lakes themselves.

Additionally, the hemlocks provide other benefits to the streams and brooks like shade for small aquatic fish species to grow and develop.

Hall said he worked with a team of volunteers and Cornell University’s* hemlock initiative map on populations of hemlocks around the tributaries to Owasco Lake. While some of them are already infected with the adelgid, he said there is likely still time to remedy the situation, adding that, as of now, the problem is in the "moving-in" phase.

Hall said he would like to see insecticide treatment of the trees in the most vulnerable and impactful areas of the tributaries while foresters conclude their work to find a natural predator to introduce from the pacific northwest.

*Full Disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG Underwriter

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.