Kentucky, Tennessee pursue federal help in fight against insect - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky, Tennessee pursue federal help in fight against insect killing hemlock trees

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky and Tennessee are seeking federal aid to fight a pest killing hemlock trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains and other iconic wilderness areas.

Leah MacSwords, Kentucky's state forester, said the states have applied for a three-year, $606,800 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to stem the damage done by the hemlock woolly adelgid and protect healthy trees.

The insect, a native of Asia with no natural predator, has attacked hemlocks in 31 counties in eastern Kentucky and 37 in Tennessee.

Kentucky's share of the grant -- $342,000 – would be roughly three times more than a previous award set to expire this year. The state plans to focus on introducing an army of predatory beetles into hemlock forests, hoping they'll start eradicating the tiny, but damaging, adelgids.

“The reason we're doing this now is that places like North Carolina have done similar work and they're having success,” said Alice Mandt, Kentucky's hemlock woolly adelgid coordinator.

The 1/8-inch-long insect has run roughshod over evergreen hemlocks in the eastern U.S. since it was first discovered in Virginia in the early 1950s, feasting on the starches that serve as the trees' food source. Starved of nutrients, the trees eventually die.

Thus far, Kentucky has preferred chemical treatments in its efforts to save the state's roughly 77 million hemlocks, which help provide shade necessary to keep forest streams cool. Crews douse the base of hemlocks with insecticide that's absorbed by the trees, ultimately killing the adelgids.

PREVIOUS STORY: TREE-KILLING HEMLOCK PEST SPREADING IN KENTUCKY

Researchers at the University of Kentucky have introduced about 13,000 beetles into the state's forests since 2008. By comparison, Tennessee's Division of Forestry estimates 250,000 beetles have been released into areas with hemlocks.

Mandt said the grant could result in a “real impact” for trees on private property, which include most of the state's hemlocks, and public lands. Among those areas is the 708,000-acre Daniel Boone forest, where the Forest Service suggested in 2011 that the beetles be released.

Kentucky Heartwood, a Berea, Ky.-based forest protection group, has urged the Forest Service for years to aggressively protect hemlocks, director Jim Scheff said. He noted that the agency in 2011 recommended releasing the beetles in infested hemlock stands as part of a larger strategy to protect trees.

The March 2011 notice said “quick action is needed to initiate control measures to maintain a genetic representation of the eastern hemlock in Kentucky.”

“The Forest Service apparently has plenty of resources to plan and implement timber sales,” Scheff said. “They still haven't acquired the beetles that are the best long-term control we have. There are some problems with priorities.”

No beetles have been released into the Daniel Boone forest, although trees across the forest have been treated with insecticide, Forest Service spokeswoman Kimberly Bonaccorso said in an email.

“Our foresters determined that the current adelgid population would not likely support the predators; they would not have (an) adequate food source since they prey solely on the adelgid,” she said.

Over the years, Kentucky has spent about $155,000 treating trees in the Daniel Boone forest; the Heritage Land Conservation Fund, which was raided in last year's state budget, has provided about $57,705 for work on state lands such as nature preserves and state parks, according to the Division of Forestry.

In Tennessee, the hemlock pest has been found in all but two counties in the tree's native range and is widespread in the Smokies and along the border with North Carolina, said Tim Phelps, information forester for the state's Division of Forestry.

Phelps said he hopes the grant will allow the states to hold the “western front” of the adelgid's march. Tennessee, which has released hundreds of thousands of the beetles, plans to ramp up its chemical treatments of hemlocks.

“They've done more chemical (treatments) and we've done more predator beetle,” Phelps said.

If the grant is approved, MacSwords said, the states could receive the funds by the summer.

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