Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Caitlin Stewart: The Hunt for Invasives at Lewey Lake

I raised the binoculars to my eyes and stared into the tree canopy above me. Carefully scanning the bare winter branches, nothing out of sorts was noted. I continued down the trail searching for clues that invasive insects may be lurking in the forest.

As Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Conservation Educator, part of my job entails monitoring and managing lands and waters for invasive species. I can’t do it alone, and partnerships are essential to detect invasions early and deploy a quick response. Since 2009, the District has teamed up with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to survey our forests for invasive insects that cost the United States vast amounts of money in economic and ecological damage each year.
We the beetle detectives are armed with an insatiable desire to keep our woodlands invasive free. In late January and early February, my co-worker Lenny Croote and I met up with Thomas Colarusso, APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine Officer to complete forest surveys in Department of Environmental Conservation campgrounds at Lewey Lake and Moffitt Beach. On these winter days we trekked the trials checking trees for signs and symptoms of insect invaders.

Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorned Beetle head the top of the most wanted list for invasive insects. Both invaders are native to Asia, and it is thought that they hitched a ride to the United States in wood packing material and pallets. Without the ecological checks and balances found on their home turf, they reproduce like rabbits. Females lay eggs in tree bark that hatch into worm-like larvae and feed on the tree’s living tissue, cutting off food and water transportation systems. Trees die within a few years.

Invasive insects can be industry killers. Locally, these bad beetles threaten the baseball bat, maple syrup, lumber, nursery stock, paper, and tourism industries, with potential losses amounting to billions of dollars. Infested neighborhoods across New York State are dealing with dead trees that drop limbs on homes and cars.

What’s more is the pricy cost for tree removal and treatment once an infestation is detected. The Village of DeForest, Wisconsin is facing an estimated bill of $75,000 – $100,000 to remove and replace 455 park and street trees that are infested with Emerald Ash Borer.

“It’s important to survey forested areas to ensure that there are no invasive forest pests in an area,” explained Colarusso. “When I survey a high-risk area for the first time, I am essentially getting baseline data that there are no obvious signs of serious injurious pests like the Asian Longhorned Beetle or the Emerald Ash Borer. It kind of allows me to sigh a breath of relief that a particular area hasn’t been infested because there is a real potential for these pests to be established in areas like this.”

Campgrounds are fantastic places to check for invaders. Campers accidentally transport insect hitchhikers in firewood that they bring to their vacation destination. Untreated firewood may travel hundreds of miles across state boarders, harboring invasive bugs and disease. In an effort to prevent the spread of harmful pests, the Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a regulation that prohibits the movement of firewood into New York State unless it has been heat treated and restricts the transportation of untreated firewood to 50 miles or less from the source within the State.

“When I am surveying a forested site, some of the signs I look for are pockets of dying trees, recent woodpecker activity, exit holes from an emergent insect, oviposition sites or scars where eggs were laid through the bark, sprouts on the tree, and frass or the sawdust-like excrement material from wood-boring insects,” said Colarusso.

We are elated to report that no signs or symptoms of Emerald Ash Borer or Asian Longhorned Beetle were found during this winter’s campground surveys. However, invasive gypsy moths and beech bark disease were present in both locales. Gypsy moth caterpillars attack over 300 species of trees and shrubs, chowing down on leaves. Defoliation causes the tree to become prone to other diseases and pests, resulting in mortality. Beech bark disease is caused by the beech scale insect that attacks the bark, making trees susceptible to fungal invasion.

Public safety is protected and tax payer dollars are saved if our trees remain invasive free. You can help stop the spread of invasive insects that threaten our economy, ecosystem, and neighborhoods. Don’t move firewood, and burn it where you buy it. Learn the signs and symptoms of invasive insects, and check your trees. Report suspicious bugs and tree damage to the District or APHIS. We can all make a difference and work together to ensure that our grandkids have the opportunity to enjoy healthy forests.

Fantastic opportunities exist here in the Adirondacks to save lands and waters from invasion and control the invasive species that are currently established. To learn more, visit the APHIS Hungry Pests website at www.hungrypests.com.

Photos: Above, Thomas Colarusso of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (left) and Caitlin Stewart use binoculars to check trees for red flags left by invasive insects at Moffitt Beach State Campground; middle, American beech infested by beech bark disease in the Lewey Lake Campground; below, woodpecker holes can serve as an initial clue that a tree may be infested with invasive insects.

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Caitlin Stewart manages the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. The District's mission is to manage and promote the wise use of Natural Resources in Hamilton County. Caitlin will be sharing the District's conservation-focused services, programs, and events. She’s been a full time resident of Hamilton County since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, and biker. She is obsessed with adventuring with her dog Artemis.

4 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks, Caitlin for your diligence, and congratulations. Perhaps in a future post you can discuss the ecology and life history of some of these insect pests, particularly in relation to vast, topographically diverse, mixed hardwood forests of the Adirondacks, their own pests and pathogens. There is important context – biological, ecological, physical, legal and more – to these matters that fall within your responsibilities – again, very glad you are out there methodically observing and checking

  2. Caitlin Stewart says:

    @Dave Gibson, thank you for your comment. I am very excited to be a part of the Adirondack Almanack. Your suggestion about an article that focuses on invasive insect ecology and life history is wonderful. Be on the lookout for a follow-up post!

  3. Pete Klein says:

    High, Caitlin,
    Good look with the invasives and all you do.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Caitlin Stewart says:

    @Pete, thank you! Every little bit helps.

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