Hemlocks fall victim to deadly, invasive pest to get treatment at Lake Michigan Park

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MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A Lake Michigan park that is heavily infested with a deadly pest that is killing its hemlocks will receive treatment this fall.

The Town of Norton Shores has arranged for the treatment of hemlock woolly adelgid in a small portion of its Lake Harbor Park.

Trees in a 28-acre section of the south end of the park will be treated in September, said Keith Hogan, arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts, who was hired by the city to do the work.

The treatment will involve injecting insecticide into the trunks of “hundreds” of trees, Hogan said.

The little insect moved aggressively across western Michigan, literally sucking the life out of the majestic evergreens.

“It’s pretty advanced in this park,” Hogan said. “The worst of the trees, where it’s heaviest and where the trees will die fastest, is on the south side of the park, in the section closest to the Mona Lake Channel.”

The city has agreed to spend $28,650 this year on HWA treatment. He plans to spend $30,000 next year to treat an additional 39 acres at the north end of the park.

There are “large sections” of hemlock in the middle of the park that aren’t included in treatment plans, Hogan said. The park is approximately 200 acres and treatment is provided in areas with hiking trails.

“What we are currently working on are the areas where there is the most public interaction,” Hogan said.

Part of the reason is that the bug can easily hitch a ride on passing hikers and move on to infest more trees, said Norton Shores town administrator Mark Meyers.

Related: Tiny pest threatens to decimate Michigan’s hemlock forests along Lake Michigan

Since Michigan’s current infestation began about seven years ago, the hemlock woolly adelgid has spread rapidly and threatens to decimate the state’s estimated 170 million eastern hemlocks – just as it did it in the eastern United States.

Hogan said he’s seeing infestations in Olive Township and Grand Haven in Ottawa County that he hadn’t seen a year ago.

“It spreads so fast,” Hogan said. “It’s everywhere – all along the shore of the lake.”

A colleague of Hogan’s first discovered HWA in Fennville in 2013. Since then, the bug has moved as far north as Ludington.

“I feel like all I do is hemlock,” Hogan said. “It’s been my life lately. It was quite overwhelming.

The insects are not very conspicuous, but their egg sacs are especially visible in the spring. The little white, fluffy balls cling to the needles of the hemlocks.

Without treatment, death is almost certain in about five years for an infected tree, and trees die in Lake Harbor Park.

But the good news is that even fairly heavily infested trees can recover, Hogan said.

He said he has seen trees half-defoliated by HWA turn back into “beautiful trees” after treatment.

“It’s definitely not a death sentence if you know about it and do something about it,” Hogan said.

Norton Shores officials were alerted to the infestation in Lake Harbor Park by the nearby Forest Glen housing estate.

An arborist hired by the condo association first discovered HWA in the subdivision in 2020. Condo owners pooled their resources there to treat hemlocks in common areas.

State officials are racing to stop the pest from moving north along Lake Michigan and turning coastal forests into barren images of those in Appalachia and the East Coast where HWA has claimed hundreds of thousands of eastern hemlocks.

If they don’t act, officials say the ecology of the forests will be disrupted. Eastern hemlocks provide important wintering habitat for deer and birds and regulate the cold streams they border.

Dunes cleared of hemlocks, which make up 80% of their trees, could be stabilized and even become powder kegs for devastating fires.

The State of Michigan is aggressively dealing with HWPs in Lake Michigan parks.

All of the trees in Holland State Park, one of eight state parks that suffered infestations, have been treated and the state has worked for years to treat all of the hemlocks in PJ Hoffmaster State Park located just south of Lake Harbor Park in Norton Shores.

Other state parks affected include Silver Lake, Muskegon, Duck Lake and Ludington.

Elsewhere, government and nonprofit organizations, and even a civilian conservation body, are working to identify and map hemlock infestations.

Homeowners are also encouraged to be vigilant for infestations on their properties.

The idea is to try to contain HWA – but eliminating it is unlikely, Hogan said.

“If the goal is the eradication of Michigan, unfortunately I think we’re losing the battle,” he said. “It’s so prevalent that you basically have to treat every hemlock in western Michigan at this point.”

The treatment can last between three and 10 years before having to be reapplied.

Due to the heavy infestation and the fact that there will be untreated trees in Lake Harbour, the treatment will likely last about three years before needing to be reapplied, Hogan said.

“It’s one of the most impressive parks,” he said. “I’m really happy to see that everyone cares.”

Below is a list of contacts for additional information and assistance on hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA):

· Property owners are encouraged to seek assistance in identifying and treating HWA on their property. Those looking for advice and surveys can call Drew Rayner at 517-231-8763 or email him at [email protected].

· The Ottawa County Conservation District is very active in the fight against HWA. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]through his website, or by calling (616) 842-5852 ext. 5.

· Anyone who believes they have found a suspected PLP infestation can report the information through the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, by emailing [email protected], or by calling the MDARD Customer Service Center at 800-292-3939. Authorities said those making reports should note the location of trees suspected of being infested, as well as take one or two photographs, but not take samples to avoid spreading the pest.

· The state has a comprehensive website, savemihemlocks.orgwhere you will find additional information and resources. More details on the state’s efforts to combat HWA can be found at www.michigan.gov/HWA.

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