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Help Needed to Battle Invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Michigan residents are urged to help stop the spread of the tree-killing hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA. (Mich. Dept. of Natural Resources)
Michigan residents are urged to help stop the spread of the tree-killing hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA. (Mich. Dept. of Natural Resources)
January 9, 2017

LANSING, Mich. – How are your hemlocks? Experts say it's never too early in the year to take a peek at your trees - and this year, it could help stop the spread of a dangerous pest.

The hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is a tiny insect that secretes white wax as it feeds on the sap of hemlock trees. The wax, over time, can kill the needles, branches and eventually, the entire tree.

The invasive insect, native to Japan, has already been found in parts of West Michigan. Roger Mech, forest health specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said you don't have to go far to see just how harmful it can be.

“It's striking, in fact. If you've spent any time driving through New England, Virginia, you'll see tens of thousands of acres of hillsides of dead hemlock,” Mech said. “The impact is significant."

The DNR is asking Michiganders to check their trees for signs of the pest and to contact them if they spot it. Treatment is available if HWA is caught in time. The state estimates at least 12 percent of Michigan's forests contain eastern hemlock trees.

Mech said the loss of eastern hemlock would be devastating to the many forms of wildlife the tress support, and would take a toll on the state's sport fishing industry.

"Trout require a fairly cool temperature to survive, and hemlock helps provide that for them by providing shade,” Mech said. "And when those begin to die, trout populations are impacted."

He added that scientists are currently looking into what role climate change has played in the spread of HWA, noting that drought-weakened trees are much more likely to succumb to damage from this invasive pest.

More information on protecting hemlock trees is available here.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI