Eastern and Carolina hemlock trees face a severe threat to their long-term survival from the invasive pest known as the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), which has steadily spread throughout the eastern U.S. An important chemical treatment method for HWA, the neonicotinoid pesticide known as imidacloprid, is now under review by the EPA for its ecological risk to insect pollinators. There is ongoing debate over the impact of neonicotinoids (aka neonics) on pollinator health; however, the application of imidacloprid for tree pest management according to protocols developed by forestry groups poses minimal risk to pollinators (e.g., hemlocks are wind pollinated and there is no evidence that bees gather hemlock pollen). While alternative treatments like biological control are being investigated, the use of insecticides remains the best option for immediate hemlock conservation efforts.
Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning (of which I am a member) is a partner in statewide efforts to conserve hemlocks through direct treatment of trees, raising public awareness of the issue and educating private landowners on proper methods to protect these magnificent trees. The annual Potters Fall Hemlock Treatment Workshop and Clean Up, held in conjunction with the Emory River Watershed Association, National Park Service and Tennessee Division of Forestry, is an example of a successful outreach event that properly trains East Tennessee residents on the use of imidacloprid to treat their own trees. I participated in last year’s event where I learned hands-on how to safely and effectively treat my own three hemlocks in my front yard that are infested with HWA. (Note: This year’s event will be held on April 9, 2016.)
As a citizen concerned with the well-being of forests on both public and private lands, I will be sending comments to the EPA to ensure that the EPA considers the special uses of this insecticide for the protection of hemlocks and other trees. Please consider submitting comments online to the EPA by the deadline on Tuesday, March 15, at 11:59 pm ET. The Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership has created a template for citizens to use in responding to the EPA’s request for comments (see attached template with submission instructions). More information about this devastating pest can also be found on the Protect Tennessee Forests website.