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HWA in Cook Forest – 2020 Update

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid – it’s a non-native invasive insect that’s a massive threat to the old-growth hemlock trees of Cook Forest, and it’s still here.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid in Cook Forest State Park - present in 2020

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid in Cook Forest State Park

Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) has been consistently treated by state agencies since it was first found in Cook Forest State Park in 2013.  First – the bad news – it’s still here.  The photo above was taken in May 2020, and those white little cotton-like tufts confirm the presence of HWA on hemlock trees within park boundaries. 

The good news: 

  • the infestation is not blanket, but concentrated in small areas; 
  • the Eastern Hemlocks in Cook Forest remain largely healthy;
  • the state is continuing treatment, even in this most uncertain of years — 100,000 inches of trees are scheduled to be treated again in 2020, as soon as rainfall rises the water to levels enabling soil injection

HWA was never going to be a short-lived threat, and it’s important to keep in mind the utter devastation it wrought in the Great Smoky Mountains, where it hit first, and in a warmer climate.  The PA Bureau of Forestry continues to work toward establishing a bio-control for the insect, as exists in places where HWA is native (the Pacific Northwest and Japan).  Until then, regular treatments can keep these hemlocks healthy, and their surrounding ecosystems intact.  Eastern Hemlock is a “keystone” species, and integral for keeping our streams cool and clear, for filtering pollutants, and for and managing storm runoff. 

These tasks become more challenging as our climate cycle changes – we’ve experienced stronger, shorter storms punctuating long dry periods, which means less water is being absorbed into the aquifer.  Western Pennsylvania also had a warm winter, which favors reproduction of HWA – and they reproduce exponentially.

HWA – What can be done by individuals to protect Hemlock trees?

Monitoring is of utmost importance – regularly check the health of the hemlocks in your yard, and stay vigilant when hiking or out on state forest lands.  Since HWA often infects trees from the top down, especially check branches blown off by wind, and the upper canopies of hemlock trees that have recently fallen.

We appreciate your supporting ongoing efforts – both in the state and private sectors – to control HWA.

  • Private landowners seeking assistance for trees they think may be infested can contact the CFC, or their county’s Service Forester.
  • To report infestations found on public land, please email PaForester@pa.gov – it’s ideal if you can provide a GPS location, and a clear photograph of the suspected bugs, as well.

Follow these links to learn more about the importance of eastern hemlock, or the invasive insect threatening it – hemlock woolly adelgid.

COVID-19 Cancellations in Cook Forest State Park

DCNR PA State Park COVID-19 Closure
All PA State Parks CLOSED due to COVID-19 - DCNR Notice Issued 03-16-2020

EVENT CANCELLATIONS & CLOSURES in Cook Forest State Park due to Coronavirus / COVID-19 – as of 16 March 2020:

[A]ll public educational programs, special events such as races and festivals, and teacher and other trainings in state parks and state forests are cancelled until April 30. This includes programming by Friends groups and the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and other partners. This also includes weddings, family reunions, fundraisers, trail rides or any other type of event that required an agreement or reservation.  — DCNR 

Click this image for further updates, posting to the Cook Forest Conservancy facebook page:

CANCELLED IN COOK FOREST:

  • 14 March – Plant Propagation with a DCNR Service Forester
  • 21 March – Friends’ hike of Indian Trail
  • 28 March – CFSP Eagle Watch
  • 12 April – Easter Sunrise Service
  • 24 April – Earth Day 50
  • 25 April – Meet your DCNR Service Forester hike
  • 25 April – Friends’ adopt-a-highway cleanup of Forest Road

Presently, trails remain open for disbursed hiking.  The park office and all park facilities are CLOSED.  Please take sensible precautions. 

Simplified Trespass Posting in PA

PA Trespass Law Update - purple blaze paint

A new law simplifies some of the confusion & cost of posting Pennsylvania property as private and off-limits to both hunters and general trespassers. Rather than posting plastic or metal signs, which deteriorate and can be unsightly as well as expensive, landowners can now paint border trees with purple paint. It also eliminates the debate over whether such signs must be signed to be effective (they do not, but it apparently once was a requirement).

To comply, the purple stripes must be:

  • vertical lines at least 8 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 3 to 5 feet off the ground
  • readily visible to a person approaching the property, and
  • no more than 100 feet apart

The law goes into effect following the winter 2019-20 hunting seasons, and applies everywhere in PA, except in Allegheny County and Philadelphia.

Penn’s Parks for All – DCNR Plan

Please take a few moments to review the DCNR’s draft “Penn’s Parks for All” report which features recommendations for managing Pennsylvania state parks for the future, based on public comments gathered the past two years.  The report acknowledges that DCNR is “operating 121 parks with decreasing resources,” while visitation pressure increases, facilities age, and the forests themselves are beset by invasives, disease, and encroachment.

There will be a meeting for Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks on 5 December 2019, 6 pm at the Cook Forest State Park Office – all are welcome and encouraged to attend – share your concerns, priorities, and questions for the future of our beautiful, wild spaces, locally and state-wide.  

DCNR needs "more than $500 million due to the appropriated budget for state parks not keeping up with inflation, and due to a reduction in staff, requiring higher costs for contracted labor.
The condition of state park facilities is deteriorating, with some facilities being shuttered, and some recreation activities no longer available — while demand for park use is higher than ever before."

This heavily-used bridge across Tom's Run was closed in the summer of 2019, and requires replacement - cost estimated at $100,000 per bridge. This is one of six bridges slated for closure - several are along the North Country Trail.

 According to a Penn State report,  Pennsylvania’s state parks support 12,630 jobs (part-time and full-time), and contribute $400 million in labor income, and $1.15 billion in sales annually.  For every $1 invested in state parks from the state’s General Fund, $12.41 is returned to Pennsylvania’s economy.  Yet only 0.16% of the state’s General Fund budget goes to state parks.

It’s not only trails, campgrounds, and pavilions that need funding – the forests themselves are under assault from multiple threats that can’t be handled passively.  The parks face “declining forest health from invasive plants and animals, declining plant and animal diversity, and fragmentation impacts from roads, trails,” and utilities.  DCNR needs funds to acquire inholdings and boundary properties, to to implement “projects that will mitigate the effects of climate change and that address habitat resiliency, riparian buffers, and lake and stream restoration.”

Survey respondents were generally in favor of all these projects – land acquisition, water quality improvement, habitat protection – and “the vast majority agreed or strongly agreed (87%) that visitors to state parks should expect a quiet, natural, and/or wild experience.”  Report recommendations also include the establishment of a night sky management program, expansion of educational programs on sustainable and leave no trace practices, and outreach to middle and high school students to create the next generation of stewards of the state park system.

To accomplish this, DCNR will need to meet another of its goals – “ensur[ing] that conservation funding (e.g., the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund) is used for stewardship purposes to repair and improve park resources.”  To keep our parks healthy and fully functioning, DCNR will need your support, too – in making public lands a priority for legislators.

This report is only the draft – comments will be accepted until 31 December 2019.  Please attend a meeting, or submit comments online.

Fallen Giants of Cook Forest

Courtesy of Dale Luthringer, Cook Forest State Park Naturalist: 

It is with great regret that I inform you that both the Longfellow Pine & the Seneca Pine succumbed to a microburst on 4 May 2018.

A fast moving microburst came through the area early Friday evening with winds reported near 70 mph.  Firsthand accounts state the duration of severe heavy wind in the park was likely a mere 5 minutes.  I was in Erie at the time [and] spoke to a park patron on the trails on Monday, who was from Toronto where his high rise work building experienced winds in the 120km/hr range resulting in several windows being blown out.

Many tall pines are down, and to conduct a complete assessment will take time, but a preliminary brief cruise of trails in the heart of the Cathedral note mostly all recently felled trees suffered trunk failures, with most trunk failures being at the 40-60 ft height range.  There are still two tall upper 160 ft class pines standing near where the Longfellow was that I haven’t measured in close to 10 years.  Maybe one of them might make 170.  The Burl King (~11 x ~160), located a stone’s throw NW of the Longfellow appears to have come down in either one of last year’s May 2017 microburst events.

The Cornstalk Pine (~14 x ~135) adjacent to the Seneca Pine is still standing, but appears to have lost some of its crown.  I’m hoping the Cook Pine (~12 x ~165) is still standing.

So as it stands, the current tallest pine in Cook Forest and PA is one between the Seneca & Mohawk Trail last measured at 9.6 x 170.5 several years ago.  The current statistics I have for the PA state champ would have to reside at Heart’s Content, ANF, with the Heart’s Content Pine, last measured at 12.9ft CBH x 160.5ft high.  I will be measuring the Heart’s Content Pine in a couple weeks due to programming being held their soon.  It’ll take me some time to see the Cook Pine to check on its current status.

We are looking at getting cross sections for both the Longfellow and Seneca Pine.  The Longfellow’s cross section will have to be taken at over 60ft up from its base, but the Seneca’s should prove more fruitful with a cross section that should come from the 20-25ft height range.

At their greatest dimensions, the best I’ve been able to do for both trees were:

  • Longfellow Pine = 11.2ft CBH x 184.7ft high (previous tallest tree known north of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Seneca Pine = 12.6ft CBH x 174.1ft high (previous Pennsylvania State Champ)

Both the Longfellow and Seneca have been in decline for years.  The Longfellow was still putting on height, but close to 20% of its bark circumference had rotted near the base.  The Seneca Pine was in much worse shape, with thinning crown and near 50% of its bark circumference rotted near the base.  

Even in death these massive trees tell a story and serve a purpose.  Still, it is sad to see these monarchs pass into the next stage of the forest cycle.  Nothing or no one lives forever.  Something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

The mantel for tallest tree in the Northeast now passes to Cook Forest’s sister, the Mohawk Trail State Forest [in NW Massachusetts].

Cook Forest: 2018 Park of the Year

As named by the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation, a 501(c)(3) affiliated with the DER/DCNR, Cook Forest is the Park of 2018:

Park of the Year—Cook Forest State Park.

Fighting for the survival and protection of Pennsylvania’s old growth hemlocks.

This is taken from an email sent by PPFF on 19 January, and to date no further information has been found.  You can view the complete message, including all the other designees, here:  http://bit.do/PPFF2018awards.

Any additional news regarding this designation will be posted as available.  In the mean time, please take a moment to tell us what you love most about the forest, and what you think we should focus on this coming year:  Submit a Survey!