“The Allegheny National Forest is one of Pennsylvania’s great natural treasures and an important element of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s economy,” Senator Casey said in a news release sent to WESB. “Conducting this study has the potential to determine whether this new strategy can help Pennsylvania’s forest officials confront this problem that is having economic and ecological consequences.”
I write in regard to the hemlock woolly adelgid in the Allegheny National Forest. I urge the Forest Service to conduct further research with a beetle, Laricobius osakensis, to biologically control the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). At this time, there is a similar study occurring in Southeastern United States and I feel that the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) would be important for further study of this issue.
The preliminary research from a program in West Virginia and Virginia demonstrates that the ANF could benefit from a similar program. The concentration of the HWA may be lower in the ANF than in other parts of the country but this program could prevent the deterioration of hemlocks in the ANF. I understand it may take years before the populations of beetles increase enough to naturally control HWA infestations, but these initial results are encouraging.
The HWA is rapidly destroying hemlock trees, which are a crucial part of the ecosystem in the ANF as they provide habitat for other species. The forest is a key source of valuable timber. The value of timber sold by the ANF totaled $7.2 million during Fiscal Year 2012, and was as high as $25.6 million within the last ten years. It is also an importance source of both direct and indirect employment. The forestry & logging and wood products industries employed over 25,000 Pennsylvanians in 2011. The Eastern hemlock is also the official tree of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is an important part of the Commonwealth’s history. The ANF, spanning approximately 517,000 acres, is spread across four Pennsylvanian counties: Forest, Elk, McKean, and Warren.
Within the ANF, HWA defoliation primarily threatens hemlock population, since hemlock needles are the preferred food source of the insect. Due to recent increase in the amount of hemlock trees being destroyed by the HWA, I am concerned about the potential for growth loss and a reduction in the hemlock trees’ overall health and survival. This insect does not have a natural predator in North America, so the L. osakensis beetle may be vital to ensure that the HWA’s growth is not unchecked.
I ask that the U.S. Forest Service take all appropriate actions to prevent the HWA from harming the health of the ANF. The Forest Service must continue to study ecological effects and economic impacts of invasive species in Pennsylvania in order to develop treatments and manage species. I urge you to quickly develop models for the HWA like the one developed for the Gypsy Moth Slow-the-Spread Program. The L. osakensis beetle program as employed in West Virginia and Virginia could be the breakthrough needed in the fight against the HWA.
I also ask that the Forest Service continue to ensure that private land owners in Pennsylvania have the best information on how to address the HWA on their properties. I applaud the Forest Service for its recent monitoring workshop on February 5 that sought to educate those who could be affected by the HWA, as well as other important educational events regarding the HWA.
The ANF is an irreplaceable natural resource that supports both the economy and culture of Pennsylvania. Thank you for your consideration of my request. I appreciate your leadership and look forward to continuing to work with you on this and other matters.