Hello, my name is Olivia Hunt, I’m an Education and Conservation Intern with Saratoga PLAN and Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park!

Throughout this past winter, I’ve been learning about the invasive aphid-like insect known as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA). HWA is an extremely small insect that attaches to the base of the needles of hemlock trees. Once attached, these insects insert their mouthparts into the stems and begin to suck out nutrients from the tree. This quickly leads to decreased tree health and eventual tree death if left untreated. The loss of hemlock trees is a major concern because not only are hemlocks the third most common tree in New York state, but they are also a foundational species in our forested ecosystem. This means they help create their environment and provide many ecosystem benefits to surrounding communities. The main ecosystem benefit they provide is temperature regulation. Hemlock trees grow dense shading canopies and during the summertime, this shade is crucial for keeping our waterways cool. In fact, species like brook trout are much more likely to be found in streams with adjacent hemlock trees than in streams with adjacent deciduous trees. The shade that hemlock trees provide also keeps the understory clear of other plants, making good habitats for animals like the white-tailed deer.

Protecting and preserving the health of hemlock forests is imperative and surveying for HWA infestation is the first step. During the summer, HWA is nearly invisible due to its small size and dull color. However, during the winter they grow distinctive white woolly coats that can be easily seen for surveying. Once HWA is detected at a site, there are several biological and chemical treatment options that can greatly increase the tree’s chance of survival.

The first step to combatting HWA is determining where infestations are by surveying hemlock trees. PLAN owns several properties that have large areas of hemlock trees and thus the potential of HWA infestation is a major concern. This winter’s focus was turned to Hennig Nature Preserve in Middle Grove and the recently acquired Snake Hill property on Saratoga Lake.

Hennig Nature Preserve is PLAN’s largest public preserve at 606 acres with an additional 476 acres of contiguous county forested land. The dominant tree species at Hennig is hemlock and there are several trout waterways flowing through the property. Several survey groups went out including PLAN staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Capital Region PRISM (Partnership for Invasive Species Management). Fortunately, no HWA was observed at Hennig. However, some of the hemlocks did appear to show early signs of HWA presence like minor crown dieback.

Snake Hill was also surveyed for HWA and we found that nearly every hemlock tree had HWA on its branches and showed signs of significant crown dieback. Despite this, there is still hope! Treatment options are currently being discussed and could potentially allow the tree stands on Snake Hill to recover. In better news, we found that the hemlocks on the northern side of the property appeared to be in good health.

The end of March marks the conclusion of my internship with PLAN and throughout the five and a half months that I have been here, I have learned a lot! I have gotten an in-depth look at how land trusts operate and what goes into preserving and conserving land. I have also gotten to practice many skills including map-making on ArcGIS Pro, survey design and techniques, land monitoring, report writing, and data management. I’ve really enjoyed my time with Saratoga PLAN and hope to continue working in the conservation field in the future!