U.S. Forest Service OKs grant for Kentucky, Tennessee in battle - WDRB 41 Louisville News

U.S. Forest Service OKs grant for Kentucky, Tennessee in battle against hemlock killer

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The U.S. Forest Service has approved a grant sought by Kentucky and Tennessee in their effort to protect hemlock trees threatened by an invasive pest, officials from both states said.

The hemlock woolly adelgid, an Asian insect that was first found in Virginia in the 1950s, has sickened and killed hemlocks in at least 68 counties in eastern parts of both states.

The states will divide proceeds from the $606,800 award, with Kentucky spending most of its money on trying to establish a population of adelgid-eating beetles in areas near hemlock stands. Tennessee, which has released beetles into its forests, plans to focus on treating trees with chemicals.

Kentucky has been applying chemicals to the base of hemlock trees for years. The next step is introducing the beetles in hopes of establishing “field insectaries” – places in the wild where the predators can be gathered, said Alice Mandt, the state’s hemlock woolly adelgid coordinator.

“The bigger idea is to build the population of beetles there so we can go there once or twice a year and collect beetles and release them elsewhere in the state,” Mandt said.

The first beetles will be placed on a small swath of public land near the Daniel Boone National Forest, but an exact location hasn’t been determined, she said. The 708,000- acre forest covers 21 counties in eastern Kentucky, including the Red River Gorge geological area.

Mandt said the adelgid has “completely devastated” hemlocks in parts of the national forest, with the gorge among the hardest hit areas. Crews have treated some trees in the forest but are prevented from applying the chemicals in wilderness areas, such as the gorge’s 12,646-acre Clifty Wilderness.

The treatments involve crews spreading an insecticide at the base of hemlock trees, which then absorb the chemical that kills the feeding adelgids.

Mandt said a “good majority” of the latest grant will be used to keep treating the trees in Kentucky.

In Tennessee, state officials plan to use most of its money to hire seasonal workers who will apply insecticide to trees on public lands from September until April, said Heather Slayton, forest health unit leader for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s division of forestry.

Tennessee plans to use smaller grant amounts to train private landowners to keep their hemlocks healthy, and establish outdoor beetle populations. The University of Tennessee now provides insects to be placed in hemlock areas, Slayton said.

“Instead of rearing these beetles in a brick-and-mortar facility that does cost a whole lot, we are now switching gears to developing these field insectaries,” she said.

Officials in both states say they expect to have the money from the Forest Service this summer. The award is about three times larger than a grant that runs out this year.

“We really want to join together and hopefully be a leader in showing how forest health needs to be managed on a regional scale,” Slayton said. “State by state doesn’t work anymore.”

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