For some years now, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has been spreading through the forests of the eastern United States, including here in the Catskills. This tiny invasive insect attaches to the underside of hemlock needles and feasts on the plants vital fluids, resulting in the eventual death of the tree.
We here in the Catskills have the opportunity to stop HWA before it completely devastates our vast hemlock forests. Some other regions no longer have that option. In the Great Smokey Mountains the mortality has turned hills and valleys a deathly grey-brown, upending centuries of ecological balance and leaving huge vistas comprised of skeletal trees. If we fail to act here in the Catskills, our forests will share that fate.
Fortunately, New York is waking up to this possibility. Dedicated foresters, botanists and invasive species specialists are mobilizing to stop the attacks on living trees while they can be saved and stopping the spread on HWA in its tracks. But this is no small task as the hemlock is one of the foundational species of the Catskills, as well as of other areas in New York such as the Adirondacks. The battle requires the commitment of financial resources, and that seems to be beginning, though not nearly enough and too slowly still.
For outdoor enthusiasts, whether hikers, fishermen and women, hunters, birders and all others who venture into the woods, there is an important role to play. With sharp eyes and a little knowledge we can help to identify both existing and potentailly infected stands and report the conditions in those stands. In that way, we help make it possible for the professionals to work more efficiently and effectively. We can also let it be known to our elected officials that this fight is a high priority for us, and that we want their attention and support. Indeed, the Catskill Park Coalition (of which the CMC is a founding member) has taken the message to Albany. You can amplify that voice by contacting your legislators and the governor.
On Saturday, May 14th at 1 PM a lecture and workshop on the scope of the problem, some solutions and how to get involved will take place at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper. The following Saturday, May 21st a field training will be offered at the same time and place. On June 11, again at the CIC, noted Catskills forest historian Dr. Michael Kudish will give a lecture on the history of hemlocks in the Catskills from the ice age forward through the great harvesting of the trees for the tanning industry that once dominated the local economy. For the sake of our environment, our natural history and our economy, all who can attend will be equipped to help the cause of ending this threat. We hope to see you there!