Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
This is a cross-post from www.hopeforhemlocksky.org by Kentucky Heartwood's hemlock program coordinator, Austin Williams. You can visit that site to learn more about the decline of Eastern hemlock in Kentucky and how you can help, including information on treating hemlocks on your land.
The functional extinction crisis of the Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, is ongoing.
We’re doing all the right things, more or less. At our most recent (indoor) meeting with the Forest Service and Kentucky Division of Forestry we found out that Kentucky’s imidacloprid (the insecticide effective against hemlock woolly adelgid) treatment program is one of the most, if not the most, robust in the nation. More trees treated, more trees saved, than similar programs in New York or Vermont. That’s good, even if it gives me the feeling that we’ve sailed gracefully over a rather modest hurdle. Regardless, treatment has begun for the Winter 2018/Spring 2019 season, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure more trees are treated on the Daniel Boone. However, now that it's been seven years since the treatment program began, resources also have to go toward re-treatment of previously treated trees. The current level of available resources, mostly money, means that it will be increasingly difficult to designate new hemlock treatment areas on public land.
We’re now sharing data with the Division of Forestry treatment team, helping them identify previously treated stands, that should be prioritized for re-treatment. We’re also planning volunteer service days to begin in early 2019 (watch for specific dates soon!). Volunteers will help measure and mark trees for treatment and help carry equipment, letting crews from the Kentucky Division of Forestry handle the chemical. This gets the application done faster and increases the number of trees we can treat. At least one of these events will take place in an old-growth hemlock stand that would not be treated otherwise. All good.
We're using this shared mobile GIS system to check on previously treated Hemlock Conservation Areas and recommend new ones.
And we've got beetles!
Predator beetle release on October 25 in Laurel County. We helped release more than 500 L. nigrinus, which prey on HWA in the Pacific Northwest.
So far this fall we’ve helped to plan and implement two releases of the HWA predator beetle, Laricobius nigrinus, on the Daniel Boone in Laurel County. Over 1,000 beetles were released in total in October and November. The Larrys* (that is, Laricobius beetles) were raised at the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Laboratory at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
*Entomology note: No one involved in the research or rearing or release of Laricobius beetles says Laricobius. They say Larry. It’s a remarkably consistent shibboleth. Sometimes I say Laricobius and I feel a weird embarrassment. Like I’m the nerd. Entomologists are, it turns out, cool cats.
When the lab was having a hard time finding live adelgid to feed the beetles last winter and spring, Kentucky Heartwood trucked down infested branches from the Boone to supplement the food source. And so now some of those beetles are coming back north to get some of Momma’s cooking; we're releasing them in one of the same sites where we collected live adelgid for the lab. We sincerely thank Dr. James Parkman for providing the beetles for release on the Boone. He has no contractual obligation to do so, though we’re trying to formalize the relationship with the lab to guarantee beetles for release in years to come. For this season, Dr. Parkman has indicated that we are likely to get 1-2 more releases of roughly the same size as the first two.
Lots of good news.
So why do I feel so uneasy? Why do I keep finding myself grinding my teeth every time I walk up a holler and into an old hemlock grove?
Because the functional extinction crisis of Eastern hemlock is ongoing. Because branches and whole tops of trees and whole trees are starting to come down all over the forest.
The work we're doing is important, and it's crucial for future and long-term efforts to save, and restore, Eastern hemlock in our forests. The areas of forest we save may provide the needed genetic diversity for the success of future breeding and reintroduction programs. But at best we’re only saving a handful of trees in a handful of places, and it’s heartbreaking.