Invasive Species Targeting And Quickly Destroying Michigan's Hemlock Trees

If you've noticed a tiny insect eating through Michigan's hemlock trees, you're not alone. The hemlock wooly agelgid (HWA) is an invasive species that can seriously damage the state's forests, according to The Detroit News.

The HWA is native to Japan and was first discovered in America in Virginia in 1951. These insects can travel in a myriad of ways -- by birds, wind, animals, clothing, and even machinery. Their name comes from the 'wool-like' wax strands they secrete after eating.

Unlike insects that are essential to our ecosystem, such as honey bees, which are responsible for pollination, the HWA only hinders the ecological process and is attacking Michigan trees.

“The more we do right now to contain this, the less chance it’s got to spread...But if we wait until we see dead trees, we’re in a lot of trouble," said John Bedford, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) pest response program specialist.

single urban tree can provide up to $273 a year in air conditioning, pollution fighting, erosion and storm water control, and wildlife shelter benefits. A single tree can also reduce temperatures in a home by as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit, as stated in American Forests. Ottawa County Parks and Recreation employee Melanie Manion thinks that the lack of shade caused by the damages could negatively impact nearby wildlife.

“Hemlock like to grow along the lakeshore. So our dune ecosystem in West Michigan is very much in danger,” she said. “Hemlock also grow along rivers and streams and provide shade for many of Michigan’s trout streams. So it’s entirely possible that if we don’t move quickly, we could see some of our best trout fisheries affected.”

The HWA came to Michigan on hemlock nursery trees that arrived prior to the quarantine implemented in 2001, which prohibits their importation from known infested areas.

About 83% of Americans think having a yard is important, and 90% of those with a yard think it is important that it is also well-maintained. That's why it's important to be aware of signs of an HWA infestation, such as the cottony, white masses that attach to twigs and at the base of needles. Hemlocks also begin to gray and lose needles and branches once they come under attack.

Soon, MDARD will keep the counties of Allegan, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Oceana under full quarantine to determine whether hemlocks can be moved around in the area.

“Because the infestations are limited to the western parts of those four counties, we want to be sure the rest of those counties don’t become infested, too,” he said. 

While the majority of experts say severely damaged trees should just be cut down and destroyed, there are a number of steps residents can take to treat early-stage infestations. Insecticides can be injected into the trunk or near the soil around the tree, but the infestation should still be reported.

“It’s a complicated problem to tackle,” said Estelle Charroud of Holland. “But we owe it to our children to try, we owe it to the majestic forest that surrounds our homes, and, most importantly, we owe it to the amazing wildlife for whom it is home.”


For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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