DCNR tries to protect state trees from killer insect species

CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – A dangerous insect responsible for killing thousands of acres of hemlock in North Carolina recently posed the same threat to our area. If left untreated, this invasive species will likely kill any eastern hemlock it comes in contact with.

The hemlock woolly aphid attacks the eastern hemlock, the state tree of Pennsylvania, by piercing its needles and feeding on the nutrient-rich fluids inside, causing the needles to turn yellow – And develop cotton-like egg masses before dying. The invasive species has spread from eastern Pennsylvania to the western part of the Commonwealth over the past two decades.

To avoid a significant loss of hemlock, which would be devastating for the environment, say the foresters. Due to the many forms of wildlife that use trees as a vital source of shelter and food, including the state’s fish, brook trout. The DCNR has developed a hemlock conservation plan built around treating the state tree to prevent infestation, by treating the trees with an insecticide.

Penn State DuBois students have partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to help protect hemlocks from an invasive insect species.

The 220 biology students visited the Bilger’s Rocks recreation area near Grampian, where they treated 79 hemlock trees with an insecticide to protect them against the hemlock woolly aphid, an insect native to Asia.

Penn State DuBois Biology Lecturer Lola Smith began getting her students to participate in this project in 2019, but was unable to do so in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith says the students helped treat nearly 200 hemlock trees between 2019 and 2021.

“It gives them hands-on experience, as well as experience in the ecology and health of forests,” Smith said. “They can also see what it means to jobs in forestry and other careers that may be of interest to them. ”

The DCNR says the hemlock woolly aphid is a serious threat to hemlock forests in the state where the insect has been found in 64 of 67 counties.

“It’s a serious threat. In North Carolina, the insect has destroyed thousands of acres of hemlock forest. We are concerned that this will happen here, ”said Rick Conrad, DCNR Service Forester.

“Without treatment, they will die, the trees will die,” said Mark Faulkenberry, DCNR’s head of program services at the Bureau of Forestry. “He basically made his way to the Ohio border. There are only three counties in Pennsylvania for which we do not have hemlock woolly aphid reports.

The insect infests and kills hemlock trees by piercing the needles of the tree and feeding on the nutrient-rich fluids inside. Infested trees are identified by yellowing needles and cotton-like egg masses on the underside of needles.

Foresters say the loss of hemlock would also negatively impact the environment by depriving many forms of wildlife of shelter and food, including fish. According to DCNR, the hemlock woolly aphid was first discovered in the United States in Virginia over 50 years ago. It has since spread to 17 states, including Pennsylvania.

The Eastern Hemlock was officially named the Pennsylvania State Tree in 1931 because of its significant presence in Commonwealth forests as well as the resources it provided to early settlers to build cabins.

Additional information on the state’s conservation efforts is available on the DCNR website.

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