March 28th started off like any other Saturday at the Adirondak Loj in winter. A soft layer of snow coated the landscape and caused tree limbs to encroach upon the trails, as if seeking the warmth of passing hikers. There was a quiet in the forest that only occurs after fresh snow.
It is a good silence. Not the unnatural silence that results after a forest has been decimated by invasive insects. It is difficult to imagine Adirondack forests without hemlock, ash, maple or spruce trees; however, that will likely be the new reality unless action is taken now.
Action is just what the twenty-seven volunteers who attended the forest pest training that day intend to take. The all-day training was broken into a morning session where participants were educated on how to identify various forest pests that pose a significant threat to Adirondack forests, such as the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and hemlock wooly adelgid. An afternoon session got volunteers into the field surveying trees for the signs and symptoms of these pests. The overarching goal of the training was to increase awareness among backcountry hikers regarding the threats posed by forest invaders as well as the number of eyes looking for the telltale signs of these detrimental insects.
The training was co-hosted by the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) with Cornell University, The NYS Natural Heritage Program, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), and the US Department of Agriculture animal and plant health inspection service (USDA APHIS).
APIPP Coordinator Brendan Quirion organized the morning sessions and lent his expertise on invasive species to the field component of the program. PhD candidate Joanna Fisher and Dr. Mark Whitmore rounded out the morning seminar with presentations on various forest pests. Dr. Whitmore is currently researching Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive insect that could extirpate hemlock trees from the Adirondacks. He believes we have a real chance of mitigating the adelgid’s impacts, assuming the threat is not ignored.
Jennifer Dean of the NYS Natural Heritage Program gave a training on how to use the interactive mapping program iMap and referenced other applications that help volunteers record their findings in the field. The combination of trainings armed volunteers with the skills necessary to identify the signs and symptoms of forest pests and record their findings in a collaborative database.
ADK Education Director Julia Goren organized the participants for the afternoon field portion. ADK education staff helped guide the groups to stands of hemlocks. Whitmore, Fisher and Quirion were able to educate volunteers on tree identification as well as various other signs of forest pest presence during the hike. Luckily no invasive pests were documented during the hike!
Each participant was asked to adopt an area (e.g., a trail, trailhead, stream or lake shore) to monitor for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. More than 20 different hemlock stands were selected by the volunteers for monitoring over the coming year.
Invasive insects are a very real threat to forest ecosystems in New York State. Early detection, reporting and rapid response are key to prevent the spread of these pests. The backcountry monitoring program aims to get backcountry hikers involved in surveillance to increase the response time of agencies to new infestations. The work currently being undertaken by conservation organizations and volunteers is essential for the protection of some of New York’s most beautiful resources. Further forest pest monitoring trainings this year, co-hosted by ADK, will focus on the Lake Champlain Basin and will be supported by the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Those looking to get involved in the future trainings can sign-up here to stay informed or contact Cathy Pedler at email@example.com, (518)449-3870.
Photo Credit: Pierre LaRocque