Pest that kills Hemlock trees on its way

May 30, 2016

By: Simcoe Reformer

A bug that sucks the sap out of trees and leaves them dead is the latest threat to Norfolk County’s forests, warns a biologist.

The Hemlock wooly adelgid is in the Niagara Region and is probably headed this way, said Gregor Beck, director of Ontario programs for Bird Studies Canada.

The pest is capable of killing off large swaths of Hemlock trees – the type of tree that lines streams and ravines in Norfolk and provides habitat for a variety of threatened birds, said Beck.

“These Hemlocks are really a critical part of the Carolinian habitat,” he said. “We are watching for this one. We know it’s close.”

If Norfolk loses its Hemlock trees, it will add to the growing problem of habitat loss for birds in Canada.

A report released earlier this month following a study of bird populations in North America concludes that more than one-third of species are at risk of extinction.

The situation is less extreme in Ontario, said Beck, where about one in five are threatened.

That includes the Louisiana waterthrush, which lives next to clean streams in Norfolk – kept cool by Hemlock trees – and feeds off insects.

“Their numbers are very low,” said Beck. “They are now threatened. We are concerned for them.”

It might be difficult to stop the adelgid from coming into Norfolk and making things more difficult for the Louisiana waterthrush, he said. There are “treatments” that can be applied to trees, but like the emerald ash borer, it will be hard to hold back, Beck said.

The report on the status of North America’s birds was put together by a number of agencies and organizations in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico and marks the “first major assessment” carried out across the three countries, noted Beck.

Out of 1,154 bird species, 37 per cent are considered “to need urgent conservation action.” Another 49 per cent are of moderate concern while the remaining 14 per cent are of low concern.

The threatened species include birds regularly seen in Norfolk – which is on the migratory path between South America and Canada’s northern boreal forests – such as purple martins and various types of swallows.

The average person can help stem the decline by doing simple things such as putting up bird houses and closing curtains to prevent birds from flying into large picture windows, said Beck.

“There is no one answer. There are all sorts of things we can do that are cumulative that can have a big impact.”

Loss of habitat does not completely explain the drop in bird numbers, he said, adding it could be the result of “a combination of factors,” including pollution and fishing and forestry practices.

Action to save bird species will likely be led by industry and consumers, Beck said.

He suggested the public look for eco-labels on fish and forestry products to ensure those companies are carrying out their work in an environmentally safe manner before purchasing them.

By: Simcoe Reformer

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