It's a discovery Michael Rosenthal did not want to make.
"And I saw white in the branches," he said.
While looking for ferns in a wooded area off South Mason Hill Road in Pownal, the trained volunteer with the Vermont Forest Pest First Detector Program discovered what he thought was the invasive insect the hemlock woolly adelgid.
"I hope I'm wrong," he said.
But he was right. The woolly adelgid has infested hemlock trees across two acres. The insect sucks sap from the trees.
"We are concerned, but we aren't feeling like this is an emergency," said Jim Esden of the Vt. Forests, Parks and Recreation Department.
It's unknown how long the woolly adelgid has called Pownal home. This is the first time the insect has been detected outside of Windham County. It was first spotted there in 2007 and now there are more than 60 infested sites there.
"We have seen some trees that are actually showing symptoms of decline, but to date we have seen no tree mortality, even in the worst sports," Esden said.
So how did the woolly adelgid make its way here to Pownal? Foresters think birds from Massachusetts brought it here. The insect has been a problem in Massachusetts for years.
"As a bird rummages through the foliage for food, sometimes the white woolly ovasacs that hide the adult adelgid will stick to the feathers. And when the bird moves to uninfested foliage, if those ovasacs happen to fall off, then there's been a new introduction," Esden said.
Weather is also believed to be a factor. The invasive insect usually does not survive the winter, but last year it was much milder, helping the bug thrive.
The state launched a response plan that includes quarantines and travel restrictions for hemlock trees. Other than that, the department is not sure how it will tackle the problem. The state received permission to use non-native predatory beetles. Fungi that makes the insect sick is also being considered.
"We don't expect these trees to die in the next several years, so we think we've got 10 to 20 years," Esden said. "So we are being careful to find the right tool for this particular spot."
Rosenthal is glad he discovered the insect when he did.
"I hope it means they get a jump on it, that this is a small infestation and they can contain it," he said.
A pesky problem threatening Vermont's Green Mountains.
Homeowners can also help prevent the spread of the woolly adelgid by taking down birdfeeders from April to August. That's when the bugs are on the move.
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