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Buying Time As Hemlock Invader Eyes Adirondacks

The Adirondack Park is often considered one of the most pristine, beautiful, wild places in New York, if not within the entire eastern forests of America. It is home to vast forests and rolling farmlands, towns and villages, mountains and valleys, lakes, ponds and free-flowing rivers, private lands and public forest.

Throughout this rich and varied landscape are some of the densest quantities of eastern hemlocks, one of New York’s most abundant and significant tree species … and those trees are under attack by an advancing invasive species that State Parks is trying to help hold back.

This invader is the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA), an invasive forest insect native to Asia that has decimated millions of hemlocks along the eastern seaboard since being accidentally introduced into Virginia in 1951.

Adelgids are tiny insects that insert piercing-sucking mouthparts into hemlock twigs, causing damage to woody tissue that inhibits water and nutrients from reaching emerging hemlock buds. This limits the growth of new twigs and eventually kills the tree.

At about 6/100ths of an inch long, the flightless adelgids are hard to spot with the naked eye, but in the winter through early summer leave distinctive white “woolly” egg masses on hemlock twigs. (Photo Credit – NYS DEC)

Due to the lack of any sort of natural resistance of eastern hemlocks to HWA and without any natural predators to manage populations, the pest has spread quickly. Once infested, a hemlock tree can die in as little as four years, or as long as 20, depending on environmental factors.

During the years since, the insect spread steadily south and northeast, finally making its way to New York in the 1980’s on Long Island and then into the Hudson Valley. With each year, it has expand its range further north and west.

Use the slider bar to compare known Hemlock Wooly Adelgid locations in New York State (left), with the density of hemlock forests in the state (right). Charts from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

On the left, hemlock trees killed by HWA. On the right, a healthy, uninfested hemlock.

In 2020, HWA was found in hemlocks at two locations in the Adirondacks, most recently along the eastern shores of Lake George, posing a huge threat to spread into some of the finest hemlock forests in New York.

As climate change contributes to more mild winters, experts anticipate more rapid movement and increasing HWA populations. Last winter in New York was extremely mild and there is a boom in HWA populations statewide as the existing population expands.

The insect is now so abundant across the range of eastern hemlocks, it will never be removed, or eradicated, from the environment. The ultimate answer to fighting this threat to our hemlocks to restore the balance. This comes in the form of biological control, using predatory insects from hemlocks in western U.S. that keep HWA from overwhelming and killing hemlock trees.

Since being introduced into Virginia in the early 1950s, the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid has spread steadily south and northeast. It is now in much of New York and this summer was found along the eastern shoreline of Lake George in the Adirondacks. (Map Credit – U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service)

Here in New York, this effort is being led by the New York State Hemlock Initiative (NYSHI) based at Cornell University, where forest entomologist Mark Whitmore heads the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Biocontrol Research Lab. Several biocontrol species have been evaluated and releases have occurred in New York State Parks and other forests across the state, but it takes time for predators to establish and begin having a measurable reduction of HWA populations.

As research continues on biological control, HWA continues to impact our forests. In the interim, the only viable means of control is using insecticides to temporarily preserve trees until the natural enemies of HWA can take over.

Read more about these natural control efforts in this previous post in the NYS Parks Blog…

Big Hopes for Little “Army” in Parks’ Fight against Hemlock Invaders

As the third most common tree in New York, hemlocks fill our forests and are found in many New York State Parks. Located along hiking trails, streams, gorges, campsites, and lake shores, the evergreens can live to be hundreds of years old, providing vital ecosystem services and supporting unique habitats. In addition to providing homes … Continue reading Big Hopes for Little “Army” in Parks’ Fight against Hemlock Invaders


While the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and others in the Adirondack Park combat HWA within the Blue Line, New York State Parks also is actively playing a role in protecting the Adirondack Park and its precious resources.

By targeting its chemical treatments at Park sites along the “leading edge” of the expanding range, State Parks is trying to slow the spread of HWA and protect some core hemlock patches, buying more time for continued research and establishment of biological control. Reducing or locally eliminating HWA from State Parks not only preserves the hemlocks, but also reduces the possibility of HWA hitching rides on cars or hikers’ boots, a potential a source of introduction to the Adirondack Park or other currently uninfested hemlock forests.

Current efforts to slow the spread include targeted surveys and treatments in state parks in the Saratoga-Capital Region with abundant hemlock forest such as John Boyd Thacher State Park, where treatments were done rapidly following early detections in 2018-19, as well as Moreau Lake and Grafton Lakes State Parks, where HWA has yet to be detected but surveys are on-going.

Another key strategy New York State Parks is employing, is protecting some of the most valuable hemlocks in areas that have been infested for several years before those specimens are lost. In Finger Lakes Region, State Parks staff as part of the Finger Lakes Hemlock Preservation Program have been trained and certified to conduct these treatments which began in 2018 and continue today.

Many of the gorge parks including Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Watkins Glen all have threatened hemlocks growing on the steep slopes and cliff edges where many other tree species would not thrive. Protecting these trees helps maintain the indispensable ecological processes but also preserves the landscape that makes these parks so unique and such a draw to people from across the state and beyond. In other parts of the state, highly specialized contractors are employed to perform these technical treatments.

Statewide, hundreds of acres of hemlock forest including thousands of individual trees have been protected. Once treated, trees are tagged so that they can be identified later and are monitored annually to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and track the tree’s response.

As the HWA and the stress that they cause are removed, trees typically show flushes of bright green new growth the following spring. The insecticides have proven to be very effective but must be used responsibly and within limits. Each year, State Park staff evaluate potential areas for treatment and make difficult decisions working with limited resources as these treatments are expensive, temporary, and labor intensive.

HWA is a serious threat but there is much reason for optimism. Chemical control has proven to be a safe, effective tool against the pest although has its limits in size and scale. Biological control has been increasingly successful in some states to the south where it has been ongoing for longer than New York and there are promising early returns where releases have occurred here but it is still too early to tell if and when the biological controls could become the primary weapon against HWA.

While the management of hemlocks through chemical and biological control can only be done by the experts, you can help by volunteering to look for and report HWA sightings  and even preserving hemlocks right at your own home. Each and every piece of information about the distribution of HWA in New York through volunteer sightings allows land managers and researches to stay right on the heels of this pest.

Invasive Species Spotlight: Monitoring for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is a tiny, invasive insect which kills hemlock trees in a matter of 6 years. Please see the previous post on HWA for more information. The insect was introduced in Virginia in the early 1900’s, and has steadily spread since then. New York state contains all stages of HWA infestation. There are … Continue reading Invasive Species Spotlight: Monitoring for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid


Cover Shot – Hemlocks at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in the Finger Lakes Region.

Post By Nick Marcet, State Parks Forest Health Coordinator

If You Believe You Have Found Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

  1. Take pictures of the infestation signs (include something for scale such as a coin or ruler).
  2. Note the location (intersecting roads, landmarks or GPS coordinates).
  3. Fill out the hemlock woolly adelgid survey form.
  4. Email report and photos to Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Health foresthealth@dec.ny.gov or call the Forest Health Information Line at 1-866-640-0652.
  5. Contact your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) by visiting http://www.nyis.info/.
  6. Report the infestation at iMapInvasives.
  7. Slow the spread of HWA in our forests by cleaning equipment or gear after it has been near an infestation, and by leaving infested material where it was found.



 

What Is Bathing without Water?

It’s always made good sense.  If you feel down or need to clear your head, go out and take a walk. That is what happened recently at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, when 10 people and Abe, an energetic Golden Retriever, set out for a hike on a cool, somewhat damp autumn morning in October.

But it was a hike with a special purpose – to explore a Japanese-inspired concept called “Forest Bathing” (Shinrin-yoku ), which is a form of nature therapy that requires no actual bathing. The term was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as contacting and taking in the atmosphere of the forest.

Forest Bathing guide Jane Dobson leads the recent group at Minnewaska State Park.

Japanese officials began exploring the concept in response to what government officials saw as rising levels of unhealthy stress among residents of an advanced industrialized nation that was undergoing rapid technological change.

The basic idea in Shinrin-yoku is to observe and experience natural surroundings with a slowed and deliberate focus, rather than treating a hike as a distance between two points to covered briskly in competition with whatever else pops into one’s head.

And while to some forest bathing may sound like a gauzy abstraction, there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing real and measurable physical and mental health benefits from spending time in nature.

For example, this 2010 study in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, based on field experiments with 280 people across 24 different forest and urban locations in Japan, found “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol (the so-called “fight or flight” stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments … The results of the field experiments also provide a platform for interested enterprises, universities, and local governments to promote the effective use of forest resources in stress management, health promotion, rehabilitation, and the prevention of disease.”

Since then, other studies have reconfirmed these results. Some of these studies can be found online at the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, which is linked at the bottom of this story.

That’s something to pay attention to when average Americans spend 93 percent of their time indoors or in automobiles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And it is especially important when many of us are stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been turning to healthy and safe outdoor activities, like hiking and other activities in State Parks, where there are more than 300,000 acres of forest to “bathe” in throughout the year.

Visits to Parks during this season remained strong, with overall 2020 attendance through October down only 2 percent compared to 2019, even given the density reduction requirements, cancellation of the early camping season, and closure of indoor facilities during the pandemic.

At Minnewaska’s program on an introduction to the concept of forest bathing, Michael and Geralyn O’Reilly, of Troy, along with Abe, their Golden Retriever, went with the group along the park’s Mossy Glen Trail to a bridge over the Peterskill creek.

During the walk (where people used masks when not social distancing), participants were encouraged to move slowly, deliberately, while pausing to focus on breathing, putting thoughts of everyday issues out of their minds, and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the woods filled with oak and laurel around them.

On starting a hike, participants first took time to quietly stretch and breathe, focusing on slow movement of various joints like the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck.

One of the “forest bathers” takes a few moments to sit quietly at the Peterskill to focus on their surroundings.

Key to that is the idea of “settling into” a present moment, rather than thinking about anything else that presents itself, which relates to the Buddhist concept of the “monkey mind,” referring to a parade of thoughts that are unsettled, restless and intrusive in the manner of a non-stop “to do” list.

“A program like this helps us to slow down and better experience this beautiful place,” said Geralyn O’Reilly. “And as someone who loves the outdoors, I enjoy being here with like-minded people.”

Growing up in the Bronx, Robert Dosch now lives in Orange County and visits Minnewaska often. Relaxing after the hike, he said, “I have always enjoyed being in the outdoors. A program like this gives you a new perspective … It helps to be reminded that there are times when you should put everything aside and just be where you are.”

Forest Bathing is a practice that reconnects us with nature and its healing properties.  This is not just about hiking, getting to a destination, or exercise.  This is downshifting and unplugging, which can be difficult when smart devices can bring distractions and demands for attention.  Urbanization and the saturation of technology in our lives has disconnected us from our direct sensory experience of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.

Forest Bathing is the antidote this type of sensory anesthesia.  Like a bath, you are soaking; only you are soaking in all your senses.  A Forest Bathing walk offers different sensory invitations to allow you to connect more deeply with nature.  This connection allows nature to quiet our busy minds and reveal the beauty of the present moment. 

Although the term Forest Bathing is relatively new, by no means is this a new practice.  The healing properties of nature have been recognized throughout time by virtually all cultures.  The only change is that now we have scientific data to back up this intuitive knowledge.

Of course, it is important to remember that nature, including its health benefits, is not just a resource to be taken.  There is something more innate at play.  Forest Bathing helps reconnect humans with the outdoor world to which we are naturally adapted, where we have spent more than 99 percent of our time as a species.  The recent pandemic has made one thing clear as unprecedented numbers of people have flocked to parks and preserves across the United States – people need nature.  As we restore our relationship with the natural world, we are reminded of the vital reality that we, too, must take care of nature as it takes care of us. 

Post by Jane Dobson, Mindful Outdoor Nature Guide, MindtheForest LLC


Learn more about forest bathing from the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine. The website includes links to reports on the concept from such outlets at the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, The Guardian and the China Times.

Try Forest Bathing Yourself

  1. Don’t worry about being in the forest if that is not possible. Any nearby park or natural open area will do, any time of the year.
  2. Before you begin your hike, do some basic stretches of your ankles, knees, neck, wrists and hips. This relates to a practice in yoga called “the eight churnings,” which will stimulate the fluid that lubricates joints.
  3. Allow yourself three full minutes before starting the hike to just breathe deliberately and relax. This quiets the mind and allows you to notice more.  It may be hard to sit still at first, but that will come easier with time.
  4. Once on the hike, move slowly and deliberately. Take time to pause from time to time to take in the surroundings. Pick a feature, like a tree, rock or portion of a stream, that appeals to you. Try to avoid letting your thoughts wander off from where you are and what you are experiencing.
  5. Take time to sit down. Experience quietness, which can allow you to notice small sounds and events that might otherwise have gone undetected. By just sitting, you will begin to connect more deeply with nature. 

The Wonderful World of Mason Bees

In honor of National Pollinator Week last month, let’s give a tribute to a native New York bee. While there are hundreds of bee species in the state, this shout-out is for one species – the mason bee.


A mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons)

“What are Mason Bees?”

While there are over 400 species of bees in New York State, mason bees comprise only about 7 percent of that diversity. These small bees are important pollinators of crops, wildflowers, and many other woodland, meadow and wetland plants. Unlike honeybees, which are sial in nature, mason bees are solitary. They construct individual nests in hollow reeds or other plant stems, pre-existing cavities, or burrows found in dead wood. Their name stems their practice of transporting mud to nesting areas to build structures in which they eventually lay eggs.

Mason bees come from the tribe Osmini of the family Megachilidae. In New York State, mason bees include genera such as Osmia, Hoplitis, Chelostoma, and Heriades. Each genera has specific characteristics. Also, these mild-mannered bees only sting if provoked or cornered, so they are ideal for observing up close.

Osmia Mason Bees: When referring to “mason bees”, many people would generally reference them to the bees of genera Osmia. A key trait of these types of bees that they are an energetic fast flier. Osmia mason bees tend to be small-to-medium in size with a robust build and relatively large heads. Within the genera, there are three subgenera (or subspecies): Helicosmia, Melanosmia, and Osmia. In New York, there are at least 25 native Osmia species.

Blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) (Photo Credits – USDA Agricultural Research Service)

Hoplitis Mason Bees: They are the pollinators of woodland shrubs and trees, garden flowers and berries, while also visiting some varieties of commercial fruit. What makes them different from Osmia mason bees is that their bodies are slenderer. Hoplitis mason bees tend to be black to darkly-colored with pale abdominal stripes. These bees use chewed leaves, dirt, pebbles, or wood particles to construct walls between the brood cells of their nests. There are seven Hoplitis species found in New York.

The face of a Hoplitis spoliata (Photo Credit – USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

Chelostoma Mason Bees: They are the only type of mason bee native to New York State that is represented solely by one species, the mock orange Chelostoma, Chelostoma philadelphi

Mock orange chelostoma bee (Chelostoma philadelphi) (Photo Credit – USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory

Their appearance is small and ant-like, with disproportionately long jaws compared to the rest of its body. Bees that fall within this genus tend to be picky about which plants that they feed on and pollinate. Thus, the mock orange Chelostoma is a pollinator of the mock orange shrub (genus Philadelphus after which the bee was named). However, for those who are bee enthusiasts, there are also two non-native species of Chelostoma in New York that tend to feed on bellflowers.

Heriades Bees: Last, but certainly not least, is the resin bee, genus Heriades. What are resin bees? Resin bees and mason bees are quite similar to one another in terms of their lifestyles; they are both solitary bees; living in nests rather than hives. But unlike the other three genera, resin bee nests are located in the ground. Heriades bees can forage on a range of plants, not prioritizing one over the other when pollinating crops and wild plants. These bees tend to be dark in color with a slender-to-medium build, having sparse body hair that cover their bodies.

“What is the life cycle of a mason bee?”

While their lives are short, mason bee are very hard workers, making then truly a “busy bee.” 

There is only one generation of mason bee per year.

Inside each nest tunnel or cavity, there are about 5 or 6 cocoons each containing a full-grown bee awaiting the right time to emerge. Each cocoon within the tunnel is separated by a thin mud wall placed there by the adult mother bee the spring before. The end of each tunnel is capped with a thick plug of mud or chewed leaves to keep the young safe through the winter.

In spring, after the temperate hits a consistent high of 55 degrees, both male and females emerge from their cocoons. Male bees always emerge first, remaining close to the nest, leaving their mark while waiting for the female mason bees. They leave only to feed on the nectar from flowers and plants.  

Females hatch unable to fly, and immediately mate with the waiting male mason bees.  Females mate with several males during this period. After mating, the males die and complete their life cycle. Unlike their females in their species, male mason bees only live for a few days.

Osmia at nest’s entrance (Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons)

A Female’s World

Female mason bees begin to nest about 3 to 4 days after mating, usually preferring to nest in preexisting holes. The bees plug the bottom of the hole with mud, then begin to bring both pollen and nectar from nearby plant blossoms to place in the hole as well.

After accumulating enough food for her young, the female lays eggs on top of the pollen and seals the cell with thin mud. She repeats this process until either the entire length of the tunnel is used or until she lays all of her eggs. The sperm that was stored from mating with the male mason bee acts as a fertilizer for the eggs, but only if she wants to have female offspring. An unfertilized egg will become male. Typically, two-thirds of cocoons will be male mason bees.

Hatching in a few days, larvae devour the pollen and nectar mixture in the nest. The amount of mixture that the female gathered determines the size of the emerging bees of the following spring. The larger the piles of pollen and nectar, the larger the bees.

In about ten days, the larvae spin into a cocoon and pupate inside. Towards the end of summer, the bees turn in to an imago, their adult stage and remains in their cocoon until next spring.  Their roles completed, the female mason bees die that fall and the cycle begins all over again.

“How do you make a mason bee house?”

Well I am glad you asked. This is a really fun way to attract mason bees to your yard.

An example of a solitary bee house was constructed by Sarah Witalka, a conservation steward for the Thousand Islands Region at Westcott Beach State Park, while working at its pollinator garden. If you are not that big into woodworking, you are not out of luck. Stewards at Westcott Beach made one with an old Gatorade bottle and hollow plant stems.

A home-made mason bee house (Photo Credit – Sarah Witalka, Conservation Steward for Thousand Islands Region)
 

Here’s how!

  1. Gather hollow stems from large flower stalks like goldenrod, daisies, black-eyed-susan, or Phragmites (also known as reed).
  2. If you do not know, Phragmites are an invasive reed that can be easily found by water and ditches. Keep the stems but leave the flowering head or seeds at the site or discard bag so you do not spread this invasive weed around!
  3. Score the stalks with a knife (always have an adult present to do this part), then snap the lengths.
  4. If using reed or grass, cut so that each tube ends in a node and is solid. Otherwise plug one end of each tube with mud.
  5. If that part is not done and the end of the tube was left open, a bee would not use it.
  6. Put as many tubes in the bottle as will fit, open end facing out towards you.
  7. Then use twigs to fill the spaces, so everything remains snug.
  8. If the original tubes were a little long for the bottle, a lip could be added in order to keep the rain off.
  9. Lastly, attach twine to hang it with.

Tips for placement:

  1. The front of the house should have a south or southwest exposure where it will get the most sun in winter to keep bees warm. REMEMBER! Bees are cold-blooded and they need the warmth of the sun to get going!
  2. Choose a secure and peaceful place, not one that sways or is noisy and full of movement; areas protected from high winds.
  3. Hang at eye level to keep them safe from critters and easy to check.
  4. Avoid installing the bee house right next to a bird feeder or birdhouse.
  5. Placed within about 300ft./100m of your garden, fruit & nut trees or berry patches to get the most benefit of these pollinators
  6. Plant or encourage NY native plants in your yard to benefit the native bees.
Osmia distincta is one of the more colorful mason bees (Photo Credit – USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)
 

Mason bees are among the hundreds of pollinators in North America that you can learn about. Learn to appreciate the job that these insects are committed to do every single year.

If you would like to read more about mason bees, follow these links to obtain a broader knowledge on not just mason bees, but all kinds of native bees.


Cover photo- Female Mason bee on a flower (Photo credit- Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License)

Post by Kelley Anne Thomas, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Environmental Steward and Student Conservation Association member;and Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program


Websites and Links

Bee Diversity in New York Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography

Empire State Native Pollinator Survey 

The Honeybee Conservancy- Mason Bees

Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation

USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab