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Poppy Seed-Sized Beetle Threatens Livelihood Of Md.’s Aging Hemlock Trees

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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GARRETT COUNTY, Md. (WJZ)—They are some of Maryland’s oldest living things.

Alex DeMetrick reports that despite centuries of growth, the state’s old growth hemlocks are being threatened by an invasive bug the size of a poppy seed.

You have to get off the main road at New Germany State Park in Garrett County to reach those performing a kind of tree triage. Only in this case the medicine is pesticide.

“The chemical will be released into the tree slowly through the injectors,” said Donnie Oates, Maryland park ranger.

The trees are old growth hemlock, and Maryland’s Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources aim to save most of them.

“Actually, I’m hoping by the end of the day we have 4,000,” said Biff Thompson, Maryland Department of Agriculture health technician.

It takes a trip to the Internet to see the enemy. The size of a poppy seed, the hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA beetle, settles in and protects itself.

“It’s a wax they produce out of their backs and out of their sides,” Thompson said.

Inside those tiny wax shelters, the beetle is sucking the tree’s nutrients, destroying new growth.

“So it kills the tree,” Thompson said.

So the hemlocks are being given a shot of poison to kill the beetles from the inside out. Injectors go into shallow holes. Air pressure provides the force.

As each injector valve is opened, the tree receives a shot at life.

The beetle found its way here in trees imported from Japan.

Winter usually kills up to 80 percent of the HWA beetles.

“And this warm winter this year, I’ve seen less than 10 percent of the HWA population die,” Thompson said.

Protecting these trees not only saves habitat, it also keeps the past alive.

“Oh, absolutely it’s nice to save these trees.  A lot of these trees are old growth hemlocks, so they’ve been here 300 plus years.  So it’s really a part of American history,” said Jack Schutter, Maryland Conservation Corps.

Besides their historic significance, hemlocks provide critical shade and food along trout streams in western Maryland.

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