A pine tree branch with small white spots on the branch itself - these white spots are HWA

Invasive Species Alert: Boaters, be on the lookout for Hemlock Wooly Adelgid!

Here at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, we are always looking for ways to keep our lake clean. Last year, the Museum’s education team committed to educating kids and visitors about invasive species in and around Lake Champlain, and ways to prevent and mitigate their spread, thanks to a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Part of this grant also included a new exhibit, Lake Health vs. Lake Threats: How We Keep Lake Champlain Healthy, free to visit when we’re open from May to October.

Just because an exhibit is complete does not mean that invasive species will stop entering the lake! And our commitment to keeping the lake safe and healthy for everyone also continues. Recently, a new invasive species has come to light as a potential threat to Lake Champlain: The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, which has been spotted along the shores of Lake George as recently as 2021.

A side-by-side comparison of what the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid looks like throughout the year, comparing November-June with July-October
Image: What the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid looks like throughout the year. Courtesy Cornell University.

The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (or as we call it, HWA) is a beetle native to East Asia which feeds by sucking sap from hemlock and spruce trees. In Asia, HWA is not a threat to the ecosystem because its populations are managed by natural predators and host resistance (meaning the tree fights back!). Now present throughout North America, HWA is much more destructive without natural barriers like these to prevent their spread.

So, what can we do to protect our own Lake Champlain? We can all be instrumental in detecting invasive species once they are present, and in preventing their spread in the first place. That’s why it’s so important to clean, drain, and dry boats, kayaks, and canoes whenever moving between bodies of water, and to be conscious of the tiny plants, seeds and insects that may travel with you on your clothes, shoes, or gear during camping trips or even on flights to vacation destinations. You can make a difference by taking these precautions and stopping the spread of invasive species before it happens. And you can make a difference by reporting the invasive species that you see in your area while you’re out enjoying nature.

A side-by-side comparison of two images. One is a healthy Hemlock (left) versus one that may be suffering from an HWA infestation (right)
Image: A healthy Hemlock (left) versus one that may be suffering from an HWA infestation (right). Courtesy Cornell University.

The best times to spot evidence of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is in May and June. While you’re out boating or kayaking early this summer, look for hemlocks with pale, greyish foliage or with dead/dying branches along the shoreline. If you get closer to these declining hemlocks and see HWA present on the twigs, please report it!

Depending on your side of the lake, you can contact the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Forest Pest Information Line: 866-640-0652 or the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Agency of Natural Resources: 802-490-6120 (you’ll speak with Kimberly Jensen). Cornell University is also studying the spread of HWAs in the Northeastern United States, and you can report sightings along the New York shores of Lake Champlain by emailing nyshemlockinitiative@cornell.edu.

This factsheet published by Cornell University and the NY Department of Environmental Conservation offers more information about how to identify and report the spread of HWA in New York. For those of you who like to collect data, visit the iMap website to learn about this valuable citizen-science tool and the NY mapping project. Setting up an account is easy. You can submit reports right from your phone and you help scientists and resource managers get ahead of trouble outbreaks. Sightings in Vermont can also be reported to VTInvasives.org. Visit their website for more information about management in Vermont.

If you’re interested in learning more about HWA (and invasive species in general), check out the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program at www.adkinvasives.com. They have tons of resources about Invasive Species in upstate New York and are hosting zoom trainings about identifying and reporting the presence of HWA in our region. Sign up for these trainings here: Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program

Thanks for doing your part to keep our watershed healthy!