By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
It’s as tiny as
a period on the printed page, it’s as ugly as mildewed mucus and it can’t even
But what the
hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) can do is wipe out vast forests of evergreens, and
that’s what it’s expected to do in Dade County – unless Dade fights back.
the Shenandoah National Forest has lost almost all of its hemlocks to this
insect,” said Donna Shearer, chairperson of Save Georgia’s Hemlocks. “The Joyce
Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina has lost almost all of its hemlocks,
and those were old-growth hemlocks.”
speaking with the Sentinel in a telephone interview last week, will be leading
two workshops on the woolly adelgid threat on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. in
the Interpretive Center of Cloudland Canyon State Park.
how whole mountainsides throughout Appalachia had been denuded by the HWA, a
pest from Asia that has no natural enemies here. The aphid-like sapsucker found
its way to the eastern United States in 1951 and has been marauding its way
through America ever since. “The insect is 100 percent fatal to hemlocks that
get infected unless they are treated,” said Ms. Shearer.
Now the tiny
killer has made its way to our neck of the woods.
infestation first entered Georgia in 2003 in the northeastern corner, over in
Rabun County,” said Ms. Shearer. “There is massive die-off of hemlocks over
there, a little bit less as you come west. In the northeastern counties of
Georgia there is terrible damage to trees. Many, many are dead, and the
majority of the remainder are infested and on their way to dying, except those
that have been treated.”
Georgia counties have so far been infested by the woolly adelgids, including,
now, Dade – and including Dade’s famed beauty spot, tourist destination and
economic driver, Cloudland Canyon State Park.
acknowledged we have the disease in our park,” said Tom Pounds, president of
Friends of Cloudland Canyon State Park. “They haven’t really gone out to count
yet. They’re going to do that, but Bobby [park manager Bobby Wilson] says if we
lose 50 percent of our hemlocks, we’re lucky.”
Shearer’s group, Save Georgia’s Hemlocks, an all-volunteer nonprofit formed in
2009 to preserve the state’s hemlock trees. Ms. Shearer and her fellow
volunteers have schooled themselves in the latest adelgid warfare techniques
and are sharing their knowledge at free clinics such as the ones planned for
“This is free
training, in-depth training that we’ve developed over five or so years,” said
Ms. Shearer. “We do it for free but we kind of want it to be a bargain of the
heart, if you will, that people who take it will make their knowledge available
Part 1, the
Hemlock Help Clinic, which begins at 10 a.m., is an overview of the threat to
hemlocks, how to recognize woolly adelgid damage, the options for saving the
trees and the free help available through Save Georgia’s Hemlocks.
Part 2, from
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., the “Facilitator Workshop,” is more hard-core, geared more
toward the individual who wants complete how-to instructions on going forth and
saving hemlocks, and perhaps training others to do so. “This class will provide
in-depth information on the trees, the bugs, assessing infestations, cultural
controls, chemical treatments, biological controls, cost and safety, assisting
other property owners, working on public lands, and more,” wrote Ms Shearer in
an announcement of the classes.
are open to the general public as well as to any interested land managers or
foresters, but attendance at the 10 a.m. session is a prerequisite for
attending the 11:30 segment. There is no charge for either, but the $5
statewide Georgia Park Service parking fee applies to those who do not purchase
workshops are at the park, Ms. Shearer specified her group has no formal
arrangement either with Cloudland Canyon or its nonprofit Friends group. “We do
not have anything in place with Cloudland Canyon specifically,” she said. “We
do have an agreement in place with the Department of Natural Resources’ State
Parks Division so that our trained volunteers can go onto park land and
actually be the boots on the ground to treat trees.”
Tom Pounds of
the park’s Friends group said at this stage, saving hemlocks is more the
business of the individual landowner than the DNR. “Of all the hemlocks here in
this part of the Appalachian, the majority are on private property,” he said.
“So they want the private property people to start treating their hemlocks.”
But Pounds and
the other FOP members are naturally interested in the matter as they expect
shortly to become part of the war. “The park’s not got the money to treat all
the trees at Cloudland Canyon, so they’re coming to the Friends and saying, can
you do some fundraising to help us buy the chemicals?” said Pounds.
He said several
FOP members had taken workshops on the adelgid problem, and plans for
fundraising were already in the works. “But we’re still putting the cart ahead
of the horse,” he said. “We’re not sure how we’re going to treat them yet.”
possible treatments include a natural one, killing the sapsuckers with
adelgid-eating beetles, as well as a chemical one, a pesticide that some
critics worry will contaminate watersheds.
interviewed separately, said that experiments with the predatory beetle look
hopeful but so far impractical. “Now, that solution is an ultimate natural
solution that we very much are rooting for, but in the meantime there are not
enough beetles out there in the world,” she said.
For now, she
said, the treatment her group uses is a preparation sold under several names
but whose active ingredient is imidacloprid.
Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide, applied to the shallow roots of
the hemlock at its base, from which it is sucked up and distributed throughout
the tree’s tissue. When an adelgid hooks in to feed, it ingests the poison and
is a mild nicotine derivative,” said Ms. Shearer. “It’s a synthetic derivative
that has been used for a long time in dog and cat flea collars, so it’s not a
big, scary, dangerous thing.”
adelgids kill trees of all sizes and ages – hemlocks can grow hundreds of feet
tall and live up to 1,000 years – and her group’s strategy is to save as many
of each age as possible. “We will prioritize the big ones because they are the
cone makers, which will reproduce future generations, and they have the most
extensive root systems and canopies as well, and therefore they do the most
benefit to an area,” she said. “But we do try to save trees of all sizes,
because you have to plan for succession in the forest.”
treatment can prevent infestation in healthy trees as well as save ones that
are already moderately infested, said Ms. Shearer. But even so, it’s not a
permanent fix: repeated treatment is required every five years. “The war
against the adelgid is not the kind of a war where you’re going to be able to
completely wipe out the enemy,” said Ms. Shearer. “The bugs are here and
they’re here to stay.”
said, the chemical solution is a stopgap until the predator beetles can be
deployed to create a satisfactory hunter-prey balance.
information on the woolly adelgid threat or on the workshops, readers may visit
www.savegeorgiashemlocks.org or call Ms. Shearer at (706) 429-8010.