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Pennsylvania's State Tree Under Attack

May 19, 2014- Tom Joseph
WARREN - What started as a chance sighting during a brush with nature last summer has led to a deeper understanding that Pennsylvania's state tree is at major risk. The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is a tiny bug that clamps onto hemlock trees and can be moved from place to place by birds, human activity, and even the wind.
 
Kirk Johnson, executive director, Friends of Allegheny Wilderness, made the discovery in Warren County. Testing has since confirmed that what he saw was, in fact, evidence of these destructive creatures.

Johnson says it was a development he feared for several years.

"The devastation is usually complete on most stands of hemlock trees. Once the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is present in any given stand, you're looking at mortality of hemlock trees upwards of 90 percent or more," Johnson warns.

There is good and bad news associated with a solution to the infestation, he adds.

"You can take preventative action by treating individual, old-growth hemlock trees with insecticide," he explains. "It will kill the insects and will protect the tree for several years at a time."

The bad news is that there is no landscape-scale treatment for the infestation, he says, so the process is time-consuming and costly. That leaves the Forest Service with a need to evaluate the extent of specific infestations and how best to handle them.

Johnson says the insects do their damage by feeding at the base of the needles, which is, in essence, where the tree stores its food reserves. Most recently, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid was found in Allegheny State Park in New York, offering further evidence of its migration.

PHOTO: The tiny white pests are the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, which can devastate entire stands of hemlock and are jeopardizing the health of Pennsylvania's state tree. Photo credit: Nicholas Tonelli/Wikimedia Commons via Keystone State News Connections
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