New Private-Public Initiative Launched to Combat the Spread of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid in the Lake George Watershed with Remote Sensing Technology and Boots on the Ground

September 24, 2020

This announcement was published prior to the merger of the LGA with The FUND for Lake George in June 2021.

With the troubling discovery of the first significant hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) infestation in the Lake George watershed, a consortium of private and public sector organizations has formed the Save Our Lake George Hemlocks Initiative with the goal of identifying future infestations sooner to limit the extent of the invasive species’ spread in the watershed and the larger region.

The initiative will pilot the use of satellite-gathered infrared imagery that provides the capacity to survey a large area and point out potential trouble spots so that field crews can be strategically and efficiently deployed to assess possible infestations.

The consortium for this new initiative was organized by The FUND for Lake George and the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), one of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) eight Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMs), immediately following the confirmation in August of a HWA infestation at New York State’s Glen Island Campground. The infestation has since been found to span nearly 250 acres on the east side of Lake George. HWA had previously been discovered in the Lake George watershed on Prospect Mountain in 2017 but was found to have impacted just three trees.

This watershed-wide effort is intended to augment essential work now being performed by DEC, Cornell’s New York State Hemlock Initiative and other partners to confirm the extent of the current infestation and perform necessary treatment to control it.

Joining The FUND, APIPP and DEC in this groundbreaking initiative are the Lake George Land Conservancy, City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center, Cornell’s New York State Hemlock Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, Adirondack Research, among others. A total of $125,000 is being committed to the pilot project, which is designed for use across the Adirondack Park and potentially, the entire state.

“Hemlocks are a critical component of the ecosystem in the Lake George watershed and HWA is a threat to the health and stability of the region's hemlock forests,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Early detection of invasive species is an important tool -More- Save Our Lake George Hemlocks, P. 2 when responding to these threats and protecting New York’s treasured natural resources. I commend the rapid response of our team of partners and am hopeful these efforts will slow further spread of HWA in the Adirondack region.”

“With approximately 80% of the forested area in the Lake George watershed made up of eastern hemlock, the time for action is now,” said Eric Siy, executive director of The FUND for Lake George. “Our consortium has developed an aggressive early detection and rapid response program to help seek and stop the spread of HWA. This private-public initiative brings together organizations that truly care about the Lake with some of the nation’s foremost experts in remote sensing technology and HWA biology to tackle the problem. Our goal is preventing the type of devastation that has ravaged millions of acres of hemlock stands in other parts of the country.”

“We have a lot to lose,” said Tammara Van Ryn, program manager of APIPP, which is hosted by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. “HWA has the potential to dramatically change the character of the forests we cherish in this region. The hemlock forests of the Lake George watershed capture carbon dioxide and clean our air; they cool our streams and stabilize steep slopes, reducing erosion into freshwater fisheries; and they provide important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The adelgid is a huge threat, and that’s why we’re working so aggressively to address it.” “We need to slow HWA’s growth in the Adirondacks so the long term and sustainable biological control with predators can be implemented, a process we will start in just a few weeks,” said Mark Whitmore, forest entomologist and principal investigator for Cornell’s New York State Hemlock Initiative.

Urgently Investing in Early Detection

Until now, identification of a HWA infestation in the Lake George watershed depended solely on its discovery by someone on the ground who happened to spot the tell-tale signs once they became apparent on the exterior of the tree: white woolly masses on the underside of branches, gray-tinted needles, and needle loss and branch dieback. While ground verification is essential for confirming adelgid infestations, it is impossible to cover the entire region on foot or by boat.

Using advanced remote sensing technologies and computer modeling, HWA damage can be detected before significant defoliation or mortality occurs, allowing for the efficient deployment of rapid-response field crews to confirm infestations and develop treatment plans.

Remote sensing satellites not only produce aerial photographic images but also capture infrared or near-infrared data that can reveal the level of photosynthetic activity taking place within a forest stand. The level of photosynthetic activity can provide evidence of declining forest health before that decline is apparent to the naked eye, making it much easier to direct ground crews to potential infestation sites.

Later this month, the initiative’s experts will begin reviewing five years of remote sensing imagery and data for an approximately 4,400 square mile region, extending from the northern portion of the Lake George watershed south to Troy in Rensselaer County, which, prior to the Lake George infestations, was the northernmost point of HWA detection in New York State. A time-series model will be created from the satellite -More- Save Our Lake George Hemlocks, P. 3 imagery to identify hemlock stands showing signs of health decline so that on-the-ground inspections can be conducted at more than 150 stands to determine if the decline is resulting from adelgid-related damage.

In the meantime, while the remote sensing data is being gathered and modeled, initiative partners will conduct on-the-ground surveys to further assess the extent of the immediate threat. Survey teams will examine more than one hundred ecologically and hydrologically significant sites in the Lake George watershed.

The hemlock woolly adelgid is a small, aphid-like insect that damages hemlocks by inserting its piercing-sucking mouthparts into a tree’s twig. As adelgid populations grow and more insects feed on a single tree, the flows of water and nutrients are impacted, eventually resulting in tree death.

As planned, the pilot project will extend into early spring of 2021.

For more information on hemlock woolly adelgid in New York State, visit the DEC website at and the New York State Hemlock Initiative at -30-