Hemlock: Treatments needed to save Ohio forests

Among the most majestic trees in Eastern forests is the hemlock. Isolated stands of them more than half a millennium old still can be found. Walking — or simply standing — beneath them can bring to mind fairytale forests and ancient connections to the natural world around us.

But they are at risk from an invasive species, the hemlock wooly adelgid. (Not, by the way, acid rain). Now, the tiny bug has been found in three new Ohio counties, Athens, Geauga and Lake.

It will prove impossible to stop the adelgid’s march — and its destruction of hemlock trees. Some parts of the country have seen forests that presided over the discovery by Europeans of this continent reduced to sunsoaked fields. But it is possible to save individual trees, through expensive treatment.

Universities across the eastern half of the country have been seeking ways to fight the wooly adelgid for years. Last month, Cornell University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced they are spending $1 million on a lab where researchers can find new solutions to the problem. Researchers are working on breeding predatory beetles and flies to eat the adelgids — and they claim there are no foreseeable downfalls to a biological control solution.

“We’ve learned from mistakes in the past,” Cornell Entomologist Mark Whitmore said.

If they have not done so already, Ohio officials should be planning to provide one of the current treatments to at least some of the most valuable hemlocks in Ohio forests, and keeping an eye on the results of Cornell’s research.

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