Protect our trails by protecting our trees

Photo submitted to Times Observer On Feb. 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., representatives from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Jamestown Community College, along with a group of dedicated volunteers will be conducting a survey of the hemlocks surrounding the snowmobile and overland trails in North Harmony State Forest.

Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking through Chautauqua County’s trails is an experience like no other. This area boasts beautiful rolling hills, deep valleys, wide open fields and thick forested tracts to tickle anyone’s sense of adventure. Especially captivating are the large, thick stands of conifers that darken the forest floor and create a cathedral effect for anyone traversing beneath them. Of these trees, the Eastern Hemlock forms dense patches – often along stream banks and steep slopes – their long, snow-bearing branches nearly touching the trails in some places.

Sadly, these hemlock trees which create such an awe-inspiring scene are slowly disappearing from the landscape. The increasing presence of an invasive insect, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), within New York State has been taking its toll on these redwoods of the east. HWA originates from Asia and was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in Virginia in the 1950’s. With no natural predators, the insect has spread to 18 states and over 25 counties here in NYS, including Chautauqua County. If we allow this invader to persist, the thick stands of hemlock that once encompassed many miles of trails will no longer be green and laden with snow, but rather, they will become skeletal forms of their former selves. This unfortunate outcome would break up the forest canopy and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Our trails depend upon the natural structure that exists. The hemlocks, and many other trees species, hold the soil in place and protect the trails from erosion. They also slow the snow melt, keeping snow on the trail for longer periods of time and preventing flooding. And the list of services that these trees provide for our forests and our trails goes on.

In return for all the hemlock’s provisions, we can lend them a hand simply by keeping an eye out for this invasive bug and reporting its presence to the proper authorities. On Feb. 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., representatives from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Jamestown Community College, along with a group of dedicated volunteers will be conducting a survey of the hemlocks surrounding the snowmobile and overland trails in North Harmony State Forest.

All are invited to join this effort by sled or on foot (depending on weather conditions) to learn more about HWA and to and help us protect our valuable hemlocks. If you are interested in participating, please meet us at the Rt. 474 Trailhead in Panama at 9:30 a.m. (snowmobile trail number S41), or if arriving late, head north on the snowmobile trail for about 300 yards to reach the survey area. No experience is necessary, as training and educational materials will be available on site. We hope to see you there.

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