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Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Threatens Plantations’ Natural Areas

In order to effectively manage Cornell Plantations’ Natural Areas, we are continually on the lookout for potential threats to their integrity. For several years, we have kept a close eye on the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid, a destructive pest that has been steadily encroaching on the Finger Lakes region.  In January 2009 the insect was found on eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) trees in Cascadilla Gorge and the forest surrounding Beebe Lake, two of Plantations’ premier on-campus Natural Areas. Subsequent volunteer and staff monitoring efforts have discovered additional infestations in Plantations' Fall Creek Gorge, Fall Creek South, Coy Glen, Warren Woods, Edwards Lake Cliffs,Fisher Old Growth Forest, Carter Creek, Steep Hollow Creek, Lick Brook, and Renwick Slope Natural Areas.

Learn more about our volunteer monitoring programs here.

Volunteers can view the latest monitoring events here.

Photo: Mark Whitmore.

How is the hemlock woolly adelgid threatening the health of our forest ecosystems?

Native to Japan, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is an aggressive insect pest that feeds on the sap of young hemlock twigs. Eventually needles yellow and drop, branches die, and trees succumb in about four to ten years.  The insect  poses a serious threat to both Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) and eastern hemlocks, causing nearly 100% mortality in infested trees. It has decimated populations from North Carolina to eastern Pennsylvania and southern New England. For a current distribution map of the hemlock woolly adelgid, click here.

Eastern hemlocks are an important part of our forest ecosystems, and their disappearance causes negative environmental changes for many plants and animals. Hemlocks provide shelter for ruffed grouse, deer, and a variety of small mammals and birds. Their shade provides temperature regulation for cold-water loving amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. Growing in association with hemlocks, relict plants (species which require cool and moist climates found further north) are also threatened.  

What is Cornell Plantations doing to address the threat of the hemlock woolly adelgid?

Controlling the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid depends on increased public awareness and involvement. An essential strategy involves early detection, and is most effective when the community works together.

Cornell Plantations, in partnership with Cornell's Department of Natural Resources periodically provides late winter workshops to train volunteers how to identify and report new hemlock woolly adelgid infestations within the Ithaca area. To view last year's workshop, click here.  If you are interested in volunteering to report area infestations, contact our Natural Areas staff

Cornell Plantations continues working towards the control of hemlock woolly adelgids by treating infestations and by providing the use of our Natural Areas for research into more effective control.  In October, 2009, researchers Mark Whitmore from Cornell University and Dave Mausel from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst introduced a biocontrol agent as part of a 10 year study sponsored by the US Forest Service.  Three hundred individuals of Laricobius nigrinus, a predatory beetle native to the northwestern united states, were released to study the ability of a new inland biotype to successfully overwinter and feed on all life stages of hemlock wooly adelgids.  Read more about this study below:
Cornell Chronicle Story.

Read the December, 2010 article released by the US Forest Service, which documents the success of the release of a predatory beetle to control Hemlock Woolly Adelgid populations in the northeast.

Plantations Natural Areas also support academic collaborations with students. In 2010, students from the Applied Conservation Ecology class used site specific data for existing hemlock woolly adelgid populations to create a predictive model to aid in monitoring and early detection efforts.  Read the study and model results.

We are also actively treating hemlock trees within several natural areas as part of our broader conservation strategy.  Our natural areas holdings contain over 700 acres of hemlock forests, making treatment for all sites and all trees unrealistic.  Therefore, we developed a process to evaluate the conservation and educational value of the hemlock stands to guide our detection and control efforts. 

For those sites where we have made a long-term committement to preserve hemlocks, we have been making significant progress in controlling HWA.  Over the past four years, Plantations staff have treated a total of 856 hemlock trees with imidacloprid pesticide, including 300 hemlocks in 2013 alone.  Treatments to date have been highly effective, and treated trees remain healthy.

What can you do?

  • Report hemlock woolly adelgid sightings here.

  • Volunteer to report hemlock woolly adelgid infestations.
  • Support the Cornell Plantations Natural Areas Program and its efforts to protect and preserve natural habitats, and control invasive species in the region.

    To make a donation
    , print and mail this support form.

  • Join the hemlock woolly adelgid e-list serv.
  • Learn more about the hemlock woolly adelgid's biology, identification, and control here.

Have questions? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page, or Contact the Tompkins County Cooperative Extension at (607) 272-2292.

Image and Map Gallery

View infested eastern hemlock.
View  adult and eggs.
View crawler stage.
View map of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid detection efforts in the Central Finger Lakes Region (updated May, 2009).

Plantations Natural Areas in the News

Read the March 12 Cornell Chronicle Online story, "Devastating invasive pest threatens hemlock trees in region."