Hemlock pest found in Vermont

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(Host) For the first time, an insect that destroys hemlock trees has been found in Vermont. State officials say it’s too early to tell how significant the threat is, but they’re optimistic they can prevent its spread.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The Hemlock Wooley Adelgid is high on the state’s most unwanted list. The small insect interloper from Asia has been a nuisance in other parts of the country, including in southern New England where it destroys hemlocks used in landscaping. In Vermont, it has the potential for greater damage because hemlocks are part of the state’s forest ecosystem.

According to state officials, Hemlock Wooley Adelgids turned up in shipments of hemlocks that came into a White River Junction nursery from suppliers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Of the 800 hemlocks from the tainted stock, more than 300 have been sold. Scott Pfister of the Agency of Agriculture says the state is in the process of tracking down the trees.

Pfister says so far the hemlocks seem to be infested with small numbers of the insect. He’s hopeful the pest can be kept from spreading.

(Pfister) “We feel fairly comfortable that with, one, the trees being at low levels of infestation, and then being able to follow up and get a lot of them back we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

(Zind) While hemlocks have some economic value in Vermont’s wood products industry, their greatest benefit is in the role played by dense stands of the trees in providing winter habitat for deer. Steve Sinclair is the director of the Forestry Division of the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation.

(Sinclair) “They’re certainly not the only areas where you see deer yards, but in southern Vermont and the central part, hemlock is certainly a significant habitat.”

(Zind) Sinclair says his department is stepping up testing of native hemlock in the areas adjacent to the nursery where the trees were shipped. The state is also considering tightening the rules governing the importation of the trees. The infested trees were certified as free of pests by the states they were shipped from.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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