Vermont forest officials are measuring trees off Mason Hill Road in Pownal to see how the hemlock woolly adelgid is affecting trees here. The insects suck sap from trees and were first discovered in Bennington County back in July. So far, the trees seem to be healthy, but the state is not taking any chances.
"It's keeping the balance, keeping the adelgid population low enough that the trees survive," said Barbara Burns of the Vt. Forest, Parks and Recreation Department.
To do that, the state released 400 predatory beetles as part of a management strategy to control the tree-killing insect. The small black beetle, native to the Pacific Northwest, feeds exclusively on adelgids.
"What we are hoping will happen is the beetles and the adelgids will live here together long enough for the beetles to build up a population control in this part of Vermont," Burns said.
This is not the first time the beetles have been used to combat the hemlock woolly adelgid. They have been used the past three years in Windham County, where the adelgid was first discovered in Vermont several years ago.
Reporter Matt Henson: How effective have the beetles been in Windham County?
Barbara Burns: It's too early to say. The first step is to have the beetles survive and we know we have passed that threshold.
The state chose the biocontrol methods over chemicals for a number of reasons. One, the infected area is close to the emergency water supply for Williamstown, Mass. Chemical treatments work much faster, but are only effective for a few years.
"The biocontrols just take longer to have an effect, but once the beetles become established they will have a long-term impact on keeping the adelgid in check," said Jim Esden of the Vt. Forest, Parks and Recreation Department.
Forest specialists also say the beetles are a good match because their reproductive cycle is in sync with when the adelgid are active.
"We don't hope to get rid of it; we just hope to slow the spread," Burns said.
A beetle that could help the state stop an invasive species from spreading.
Experts are not concerned about the beetles becoming a nuisance because they cannot survive without the adelgid.
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