While virtual exercise events have become popular in recent years to encourage outdoor weather and activities during the winter months, one challenge adds a unique environmental touch, according to the Regional Species Management Partnership. of the St. Lawrence and eastern Lake Ontario (PRISM SLELO).
The organization is offering its annual virtual hiking challenge this winter. The challenge, which began Tuesday, November 1 and will run until March 31, 2023, combines winter hiking with simple instructions to help keep an eye out for the hemlock woolly aphid. The insect is an invasive forest pest that has been confirmed in Oswego County and is spreading along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.
The hemlock woolly aphid damages hemlocks by injecting their mouthparts into the woody tissues of hemlock branches to feed on the sap of the tree. Over time, their feeding weakens the host tree resulting in mortality within two to five years if left untreated. Infested trees will show signs of distress such as loss and discoloration of needles, damage or loss of limbs, or lack of regrowth in the spring.
The easiest time to spot an invasive pest infestation is in late fall and winter, when the insects form a white, woolly mass around their bodies that can be seen on infested hemlock branches where the needles connect to the branch.
The annual Virtual Hike Challenge encourages people to check hemlocks for signs of HWA when they hike in the SLELO area this winter. All trails in the SLELO area can be visited as part of the challenge. A map on the VHC webpage shows public trails in the eastern Lake Ontario region of the St. Lawrence that have easy-to-find hemlocks along the way.
Participants must complete the form available on https://bit.ly/VirtualHIkeChallenge to register and be entered to win prizes;
Choose from any trail located in Oneida, Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties or see the map on the HCV webpage for suggested trails;
Check the hemlocks along the trail for woolly white masses of the hemlock woolly aphid; and
Help raise awareness by sharing a photo of the hike on Facebook and adding the hashtag #VirtualHikeChallenge.
How to search for HWA
Check the undersides of lower branches for white woolly masses. The presence of white masses can vary from one or more masses on a branch. Check several branches on each side of the tree. A quick tutorial on how to identify HWA can be viewed on the SLELO PRISM YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/YouTube_VHC ;
Whether or not hikers find signs of PLP, it is important that they record their observations. Positive and negative results are useful for monitoring the pest population and can be recorded using the iMapInvasives.org mobile app. Positive sightings can also be reported by calling the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Forest Pest Hotline at 1-866-640-0652.
Hemlock woolly adelgid education is part of SLELO PRISM’s “Pledge-to-Protect” awareness initiative, which offers simple actions anyone can take to protect local lands and waters from pests. invasive species. Take the ‘Pledge-To-Protect’ online at iPledgeToProtect.org. When registering, choose from five action areas: Lands and Paths, Gardens, Forests, Waters and Community. Information is emailed each month about a different activity to help protect your favorite outdoor spaces from the threat of invasive species.
For more information on the Pledge to Protect and to register for the Virtual Hike Challenge, visit sleloinvasives.org.