Tag Archives: forest health

There’s Fungus Among Us!

As part of my duties as an Invasive Species Project Steward, it has been my pleasure to join the Forest Health Specialists in their fieldwork. The Forest Health Specialists travel to priority park lands throughout the region to survey and monitor for forest pests, with an emphasis on areas previously treated for pests and on early detection of emerging threats to forest health. Although our focus in these surveys have been hemlock woolly adelgid, southern pine beetle, and spotted lanternfly (see DEC website or email invasives@parks.ny.gov for more information), we see so much more in our state’s lush woodlands. Spending time in wild spaces and amongst such biodiversity ignites a sense of curiosity that no number of office supplies can replicate. Dendrology (the study of trees and shrubs), entomology (insect study)  herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), ornithology (bird study) – with all these -ologies everywhere you turn, how can you ever pick just one to invest your energy in learning about? The more time I spent hunting for the aforementioned pests, I found myself increasingly drawn to the study of one particular organism: mushrooms. Maybe I liked how they can be beautiful and disgusting, delicious and deadly, beneficial or parasitic, and all share a space within the field of mycology. Whatever the reason, I found them fascinating and had plenty of run-ins with them.

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Chicken of the Woods found at Mills Norrie State Park.

One particularly distinct and common mushroom is chicken of the woods, scientifically named Laetiporus sulphureus. It is also called sulfur shelf because of the sulfur-yellow color of the pores, and its overlapping disk-like growth form protruding from oak, hemlock and other trees like a shelf. Each lobe is an inch thick, up to 20 inches across and can weigh up to a pound apiece! It is very common in our neck of the woods- the specimen pictured here was found at Waterson Point State Park in the Thousand Islands, though I have also seen it at Minnewaska State Park, John Boyd Thacher State Park, and Harriman State Park.

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Hoof Fungus growing on a tree at Minnewaska State Park.

Another fungus you may see protruding off a tree, often birch, is the hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius), named as such for the hoof shape and hardness of the brown-ringed cap (Roberts and Evans, 383). It has also been called tinder polypore because “amadou,” the inner fibrous flesh, was historically used as tinder to start fires and cauterize wounds (Lincoff, 457).

 

 

 

 

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Underside of Cinnabar-red Polypore at Harriman State Park.

Also in the polypore family, Polyporaceae, is the Cinnabar-red polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) pictured below. The distinct red caps are 1-5 inches wide and round, often growing on dead deciduous trees (Lincoff, 486). Another member of Polyporaceae is the violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis). They have round, overlapping caps up to 3 inches wide with a leathery texture and are brown with purple, wavy margins. They are found by the hundreds on deciduous trees, and over time will diminish them into sawdust (Lincoff, 490)!

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False Turkey-tails at John Boyd Thacher State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

False turkey-tail (Streum ostrea) is another fungus often growing on downed deciduous trees, although not a member of Polyporaceae. Its name stems from often being misidentified for the fungus turkey-tail (Trametes versicolor), which is a polypore (Lincoff, 497). The species name ostrea is Latin for “oyster,” the shape of the tan, tough and papery caps, often tinted green with algae (Roberts and Evans, 438). Research indicates that they produce laccase, an enzyme used to break down contaminants.

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Inky Cap at Mills Norrie State Park. The bottom of the cap is showing signs of the liquifying gills, or ink, within for which it gets its name.

This common inkcap, Coprinopsis atramentaria, was found at Mills Norrie State Park along the Hudson River. The name atramentaria comes from the Latin word “atramentum,” meaning ink (www.first-nature.com). The French mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois Pierre Buillard, who first described the species and named it, realized that the gills turn to a liquid with age and can be used to make ink. The cap is light gray, thin and shaped like a partially opened umbrella with a smooth white stem and can be found growing on stumps, roadsides, and gardens.

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Chanterelles growing at Schunnemunk State Park.

Keep a lookout on your woodland adventures for the highly sought-after chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), also called golden chanterelles for their yellow-orange coloration. They have smooth stems that widen at the top to a funnel-shaped cap with gills on the underside and a smooth top with wavy edges. This is one of the best-known mushrooms and is exported commercially worldwide (Roberts and Evans, 476). The ones pictured here were found at Schunnemunk State Park in the Hudson Valley.

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Puffballs at Taconic Outdoor Education Center. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

In your exploration of State Parks, you are likely to stumble upon puffballs, family Agaricaceae, growing in the leaf litter. They are round to upside-down-pear shaped, sometimes with a grainy texture and usually 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. They are called puffballs because as they mature, a hole opens on the top of the rounded cap that enables the spores to puff out. Historically, they were used to seal wounds, start fires, and stun bees as we use smoke today. But be cautious around them, their spores are known to irritate the nose and eyes, and if breathed in excess can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs called lycoperdonosis (Roberts and Evans, 520). The puffballs pictured below were sighted at Taconic Outdoor Education Center in the Hudson Valley. The giant puffball (Calvatio Gigantea) is a particularly interesting variation that has been seen on State Parks’ land. As its name implies, they are round, smooth and typically 30 inches by 30 inches. The largest recorded, however, was up to 5 feet wide and weighed in at over 40 pounds (Roberts and Evans, 512)!

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White Spindles feeding on leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

Then there’s the coral mushrooms, named for their resemblance to undersea coral colonies. These white spindles (Clavaria fragilis) were found growing in the leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley. The species name fragilis pays homage to the extremely brittle nature of the fungus (Roberts and Evans, 486). It used to be called Clavaria vermicularis, white worm fungus because of its tubular white spines growing upwards in a cluster (Lincoff, 400).

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Golden Spindles at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

It’s relative, golden spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) is also a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead matter like leaf litter (Roberts and Evans, 494). Golden spindles also grow in unbranched needles, but as the name implies, are yellow.

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White Coral Cluster at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

This white coral (Ramariopsis kunzei) was also found growing in the leaf litter of the forest floor at Minnewaska State Park. Unlike the spindles, the fruitbodies of the white coral are branched. There is still much to be learned about this species (Roberts and Evans, 504).

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Lion’s Mane from Minnewaska State Park.

A much shyer mushroom, despite the name, is lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus). It is also called bearded tooth, as it grows downward from trees or logs in a cluster of white spindles up to 3 inches long. Similar to human teeth, it yellows as it ages. In Asia it is called monkey head and is used to strengthen the immune system, available as a pill for stomach ulcers or as a tonic drink in a can (Roberts and Evans, 468). The cluster shown here was found at Minnewaska State Park.

Mushrooms like moisture and cool temperatures, so now is the time to seek them out. I am sure you will have no trouble finding them, and although they can be very tricky to identify, perhaps you may recognize some of the species featured here on the many trails located at our State Parks. Happy Mushroom hunting, but remember not to disturb them, as they are a much-needed member of the ecosystem.

Post by Sara Mitsinikos, SCA intern

References

“Coprinopsis Atramentaria (Bull.) Redhead, Vilgalys & Moncalvo – Common Inkcap.” Coprinopsis Atramentaria, Common Inkcap Mushroom, First Nature.

Lincoff, Gary H. National Audubon Society: Field Guide to Mushrooms. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Roberts, Peter, and Shelley Evans. The Book of Fungi: a Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World. University of Chicago Press, 2011.

On land and In Water: 2016 Invasive Species Removal Efforts

Terrestrial Invasive Species

Since 2010, State Parks has hired seasonal Invasive Species Strike Teams to perform removals of terrestrial invasive plants in New York State Parks and Historic Sites.  The work of the Strike Teams allows Parks staff to identify and protect areas of ecological significance that are vulnerable to the growing threat that invasive species pose.

In 2016, two crews were hired, an Eastern Strike Team and a Western Strike Team. Each crew worked a 25-week field season (May 30 – November 18), camping out for much of the time and carrying heavy packs and gear to work sites.

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2016 Eastern and Western Strike Teams, photo by Robert O’Brien, State Parks.

The Eastern Strike Team covered Parks and Historic Sites in the Saratoga-Capital, Taconic, Palisades and Long Island regions.

  • Over the course of the field season, the crew visited 29 parks in 12 counties.
  • They worked on 38 different projects, targeting 32 invasive plant species.
  • The top three focal species were: Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus – 18 acres removed), Phragmites (Phragmites australis – 12 acres removed) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii – 10 acres removed).
  • Surveys and invasives removals were done on a total of 98 acres.
  • Much of the work focused on protecting rare elements including:
    • Karner Blue Butterfly and Sandplain Gerardia – federally endangered
    • Slender Blue Flag Iris and the rare Pink Tickseed – state threatened
    • Cerulean Warbler and Golden Winged Warbler – state listed species of special concern
    • A globally rare maritime grassland habitat
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Taylor Ouderkirk, Casey Bannon, Mike Ferri, David Hendler, photo by Taylor Ouderkirk, State Parks.
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Left: Eastern Strike Team removes Asiatic sand-sedge at Jones Beach, NY; Right: Strike Team member David Hendler removes black swallow-wort, photos by Casey Bannon, State Parks.

The Eastern Strike Team also spent a portion of their time surveying for the Southern Pine Beetle, an insect native to the southeast U.S., which has spread to the northeast, causing large-scale pine die-off on Long Island. The beetle has been detected in traps in State Parks in the Hudson Valley, but no confirmed infestations have yet been found in Pitch Pines in that region. Surveys were conducted in Schunnemunk State Park, Harriman State Park, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

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The Eastern Strike Team performs Southern Pine Beetle surveys at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, photo by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.

The Western Strike Team focused on the Finger Lakes, Central, Thousand Islands, Niagara, Allegany and Genesee Regions.

  • Over the course of the field season, they visited 22 parks in 15 counties.
  • They worked on 50 different projects, targeting 19 invasive plant species.
  • The top three focal species were: Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.).
  • Topping the ranks in numbers or volume removed were: 2.79 acres of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) surveyed and removed, 35,025 Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata ) plants, 34 bags of Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), and 7 dumpsters filled with Phragmites (Phragmites australis).
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    The 2016 Western Strike Team (left to right): Sienna McDonald, Phil Bossert, Dallas Ortel, and Melissa Kirby, photo by State Parks.
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Western Strike Team members Phil Bossert (left) and Dallas Ortel (right) remove honeysuckle at John Burroughs Memorial Field State Historic Site, photos by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.

State Parks also hired two Forest Health Specialists to perform surveys for two non-native insect pests: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). These surveys alert New York State Parks invasive species staff to new infestations, assist staff in identifying infested trees that can potentially be saved and allow for the identification and removal of trees that may pose a risk to the safety of park patrons. Forest Health Specialists also performed HWA canopy monitoring (tree-climbing) surveys at sites where HWA-infested trees had been treated previously with chemical insecticides. At these sites, the crew collected data on infestation levels and overall tree health in order to assist invasive species staff in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments.

  • Over the course of the 18-week field season, the crew was able to visit 17 different parks.
  • HWA canopy monitoring surveys were performed in 8 parks, and a total of 42 trees were surveyed.
  • All hemlock trees that had been treated with insecticides in previous years showed either no sign of infestation or signs of improvement.
  • Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) surveys were performed in 14 different parks, and the crew confirmed two new sites of EAB infestation.
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Forest Health Specialists Jacob Sidey and Abigail Pierson prepare to climb a hemlock at Robert H. Treman State Park and Abigail shows how they climb using just ropes and no spikes, photos by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.
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Surveying hemlocks: Jacob Sidey (left and center) at Mine Kill State Park and Abigail Pierson (right) at Robert H Treman State Park, photos by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.

Aquatic Invasive Species

The New York State Park’s Boat Steward Program is one of many boat steward programs throughout New York State. These programs provide targeted educational programming to increase awareness about aquatic invasive species (AIS) and other environmentally significant issues.

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Ariana London, Lake Champlain Steward, completes a boater survey on her tablet computer at the Great Chazy boat launch in 2015, photo by Meg Phillips, State Parks.

Did you know that NY State Parks adopted regulations in 2015 to help try to protect our lakes and rivers from the costly effects of invasive species? Find an FAQ about the new regulations here.

The regulations states that a boater:

  • shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry.
  • has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.

The Boat Steward Program has stewards at many of our Parks-owned boat launches across the state who conduct educational boat inspections to provide step-by-step instructions on ways you can effectively inspect your boat and dispose of invasive species. These demonstrations are both free and voluntary.

Boat Stewards can help you learn about what to do to prevent spreading aquatic invasives and what to look for. They are primarily educators and do not play a role in the enforcement of regulations.

Many Parks-owned boat launches across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area. The dried out material is typically collected and placed in the garbage to prevent any further spread.

When you come across a red-shirted Boat Steward, please stop and ask any questions you may have.

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Becca Reile, Buffalo Harbor Steward, completes a boat inspection in 2015, photo by Meg Phillips, State Parks.

2016 Boat Steward Program Highlights:

  • 2016 was the first year of a 2-year $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the boat steward program at state park launches
  • 16 stewards worked 30 launches within the Great Lakes Basin, Lake Champlain Basin, and Saratoga Lake
  • There were 21,431 voluntary inspections out of 22,344 boats (95% of boaters allowed their boat to be inspected)
  • 2,982 boats were discovered carrying aquatic invasive species
  • 54,627 boaters interacted with Stewards, with many boaters receiving education about Clean-Drain-Dry and aquatic invasive species
  • 11 invasive species removal projects in partnership with Strike Teams and other partners
  • 10 educational events
  • Approximately 500 bags, or around 12.5 tons, of water chestnut were removed from Selkirk Shores State Park.
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Jared Reed, Saratoga Lake Steward, participates in Invasive Species Awareness Week in Albany , photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks.
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Kelly Butterfield, Sunset Bay Steward, and Holly Flanigan, Fort Niagara Steward, pulling water chestnut (an aquatic invasive species) at Grindstone Marsh in Selkirk Shores State Park, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks.

Click on these links for more information about the Boat Steward Program and aquatic invasive species.

If you are interested in volunteering to help remove invasive species in your area, become a member of your local Partners for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) program.

If you are interesting in seasonal work removing invasive species in State Parks, check out the State Parks employment page.

Does Parks do Invasive Species Work in the Winter?

One might think State Parks’ Invasive Species Staff are sitting around with their feet up, taking a break from the relentless tasks of the summer field season. That’s not at all the case. Winter months are filled to the brim with “To-Do” Lists. The seasonal break in the field season allows for more office related tasks, such as wrapping up the previous field season, checking data for quality control, working with volunteers, and prioritizing, planning, and preparing projects for the upcoming field season. These tasks require significant collaboration with other Park staff, NY Natural Heritage Program (who provides data and advice on protecting rare species and natural communities) and other agencies involved in invasive species management. But putting in the effort and office time early in the season truly pays off to make for a successful field season.

For the summer of 2015, we had two Invasive Species Strike Teams and one Forest Health Specialist Team working on State Park lands. The two strike teams each covered half the state, the Eastern Team covering from Long Island to Lake Champlain. The Western Team covered the State Parks west of the Binghamton-Syracuse line. The Forest Health Specialists also focused on Western NY, coming as far east as the Finger Lakes Region.

Check out what we accomplished this past year!

Western Strike Team
Photo by Alyssa Reid
Eastern Stike Team
Photo by Alyssa Reid
Forest Health
Photo by Alyssa Reid

That is a lot of effort, both on the planning end, and by our hardy crew members! Without the hard work and commitment to excellence of our seasonal staff, the program would accomplish only a tiny fraction of our goals. Their eyes on the ground keep us informed of the details of each treatment area and provide us with feedback on the success or any recommendations for further actions. We listen closely to feedback from the crews and other Parks staff and partners to continue to improve and strengthen the Invasive Species Program each year.

So even though there is snow on the ground and temperatures are cold, we are still working on invasives issues and preparing for what we hope to accomplish in the upcoming field season.

For more information on the State Parks Invasive Species Strike Teams, see this blog post.

For more information on the State Parks Forest Health Specialists, see this blog post.

Post and photos by Alyssa Reid, State Parks Invasive Species Field Project Specialist

Forest Health Specialists: Climbing in Pursuit of Invasive Insects

Forest Health Specialists are an important part of New York State Park’s Invasive Species Management Team. Their work helps protect native plants, wildlife  and forests that are currently being threatened by two non-native invasive species: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). Although these insects are very different from each other in appearance and behavior, they both cause significant destruction and mortality to their host trees.

What do Forest Health Specialists Actually Do?

The Forest Health Specialists are seasonal employees that travel throughout New York State conducting invasive species surveys and monitoring infestations in various Parks. They have training in field biology, forestry, and tree climbing. The team of two camps at the park of interest while completing their work. Surveys involve lots of hiking and investigating trees that look to be in poor health, taking photos, and recording information on location and observations made at each site.

Although hiking in the woods isn’t a bad way to spend a work day, monitoring infestations of HWA is where the job really gets interesting. Specialists need to collect canopy samples from hemlock trees in order to see if insect numbers are declining or increasing. So, using a giant 8-foot slingshot, a line is shot high into the tree to a branch anywhere between 50 to 90 feet above the ground. Then a climbing rope is attached and pulled into the canopy and the fun begins! The Specialist, equipped with a harness and two ascenders (the name for special clips), climbs the rope upwards into the treetop. Climbing can be highly physical but is always rewarding.

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A Forest Health Specialist working their way up to the canopy using a climbing harness that is attached to the rope. Climbs typically take about an hour.
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A bird’s eye view looking down from the top of a hemlock. The tiny speck at in the bottom (in the green shirt and white cap) is the other team member!

So What’s the Goal?

The goal of this program is to get a better grasp of where these invasive species are spreading, assessing their impact on the forests, and ultimately taking action to slow their spread and keep their numbers under control. It also allows biologists and managers to anticipate other impacts to wildlife or rare species; to plan for potential avoidance or removal of hazard trees along trails; and to help others understand changes they see in the forest and landscape around us.

Of course a key component to the program’s success is you! By offering educational programs and volunteer opportunities, Forest Health Specialists also help people all over the state learn about invasive insects. The more people participating in and understanding invasive species in New York; the better chance we have of making a difference in our parks and our communities.

Remember, the best way to stop the spread of Emerald Ash Borer and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is to avoid introducing them in the first place. Don’t move firewood, take caution in moving landscaping debris around, and clean equipment and vehicles if moving from a site with these pests to somewhere else!

For more information go to NYS DEC website:  www.dec.ny.gov/animals/265.html

Post by Kelly Blood (OPRHP). Photos by Kelly Blood and Alyssa Reid (OPRHP).