SAVING THE HEMLOCKS, SAVING THE LAKE Frank Moses, Buzz Roberts, Fran Rotunno Fish
I am sure most have heard before Dr. Robert Werner’s statement made in the 1970s in regard to Skaneateles Lake…..”if we lose the Hemlocks, we lose the lake”
More recently, SLA members like the late Bob Duckett, Ron & Roseanne Gaye and Steve Kinne and the CNY HWA Hunters, the NYS Hemlock Initiative, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension have helped bring to light the threat of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) that is infiltrating Skaneateles Lake’s Hemlock trees from the south. As the SLA’s Milfoil Survey Team was conducting its annual survey of the lake to plan for next year’s matting of milfoil, SLA Board Member, Bill Dean, who was on that team, noted that significant swaths of Hemlocks infected with HWA were being seen more north on the west side of the lake.
Photo: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) egg sacs infecting a tree near 10 Mile Creek.
Hemlocks are essential to a healthy Skaneateles Lake and are a valuable asset in helping to prevent Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Hemlocks are one of the best steep bank and ravine sediment control strategies available to reduce the amount of phosphorus that can feed HABs. Hemlocks reduce carbon from the atmosphere and keep streams cool. Hemlocks are especially important in the Skaneateles Lake watershed with its many steep ravines because they are the best natural solution in these areas to helping reduce nutrient/sediment loading into Skaneateles Lake. Their ability to establish root systems on steep slopes and help keep stream cool and thus lake temperatures lower is in high demand now that Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are of major concern. HABs and the toxins they can produce thrive in warmer nutrient rich waters.
The effort to combat and control HWA is being carried out by both Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) and the Skaneateles Lake Association (SLA).
The Skaneateles Lake Association has designated $50,000 from the Legacy Fund for Skaneateles Lake to fund HWA management efforts. Board Members Buzz Roberts and Patty Orr have surveyed many areas of deep ravines along with Zeb Strickland, a licensed pesticide applicator with extensive experience int treating HWA. Their survey efforts resulted in identifying large swaths of infected hemlocks on both preserve and private lands that could be treated. The SLA also received input from private landowners who had identified infected Hemlocks on their properties. We were especially fortunate to have Zeb Strickland on our team as he is willing and able to rope and repel into deep ravines….which he did to carry out treatments.
To date the SLA has funded treatment of large swaths of Hemlocks infected with HWA on both the south west and sought east side of the lake. Unfortunately, the HWA Team noted areas of Hemlocks where the damage to the trees from HWA was so severe that treatment was not possible and the trees could not be saved.
Photo: Dead Eastern Hemlock "Ghost" Trees along southwest shoreline of Skaneateles Lake.
In addition to treating large swaths of infected Hemlocks, the SLA has been a resource to property owners to help them identify HWA infection if they were suspicious of it in their individual trees and refer them to licensed pesticide applicators with whom they could contract .
The SLA’s plan is to continue all of its efforts to control and combat HWA next year. We know that none of this effort would have been possible without the generous donations of our members to the Legacy Fund for Skaneateles Lake and hope that all of our members will become supportive of the Fund at the most generous level possible.
All of the SLA’s efforts relative to HWA were enhanced by the experience and expertise of SLA Board Member, Dr. Dana Hall, who had initiated and coordinated a similar effort for the Owasco Lake Association where he as also served as a Board Member and Board President.
There are two bright notes to end this article. One to share with all of you the sheer beauty of the many ravines that are a component of the Skaneateles Lake watershed with many areas of natural vegetation and many small waterfalls. We encourage those of you who can to get out to the public areas available and enjoy the beauty. The second bright note is that we need to envision the treatment of HWA as a bridge to the future use of silver flies to combat HWA. Cornell University is assessing the use for release into areas infected with HWA as the silver flies actually eat the Woolly Adelgid. Neither pesticide treatment nor silver flies will completely eliminate HWA, but both are tools in our packet to help Save the Hemlocks and Save the Lake.
Photo: Dr. Buzz Roberts releasing Silver Flies at Fillmore Glen State Park on Owasco Lake as part of a pilot project with NYS Hemlock Initiative led by Dr. Mark Whitmore at Cornell University.