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Fir tree-killing insect detected in Michigan

Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Another tree-killing insect has been found in Michigan. The balsam woolly adelgid is an invasive sap-sucking insect which kills fir trees. The first confirmed case was found near Rockford in Kent County.

An arborist found evidence of the bug in trees on private property in Kent County.

“These Fraser fir trees did not look good and showed signs of infestation of balsam woolly adelgid. And we went and collected some samples. And those samples were confirmed as balsam woolly adelgid by the U.S. Forest Service with the help from experts at Michigan State University,” said Rob Miller, an invasive species prevention and response specialist with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Experts will be surveying other fir trees in the area near the infestation.

The state has had an adelgid quarantine since 2014 which regulated the movement of potentially infested nursery trees from areas that are already infested.

The balsam wooly adelgid was first detected about 100 years ago. It’s known to have infested forests in the Northeast and Northwest states.

Credit USDA Forest Service Region 8- Southern, Bugwood.org
Balsam woolly adelgid feeding causes swollen, deformed twigs called gouting on host trees.

It’s uncertain if the insect has invaded other areas of Michigan. Miller said it’s a good idea to keep an eye on Fraser, balsam, and white firs for these symptoms.

“Tiny white wooly tufts on the trunk or the lower branches of the tree, swelling and distortion of the twigs, and then flagging on the branches, which is going to be a branch or a number of branches that turn brick red. And then lastly, tree crowns that become narrow and misshapen with few needles.”

Miller says if you notice the symptoms, take photos, note the location and report it to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network or the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development online MDAInfo@michigan.gov or 800-292-3939.

Those three firs at risk for infestation are popular yard trees and are also used as Christmas trees. Michigan produces almost 13.5 million fir trees each year.

The balsam fir is native to Michigan and the insect is a threat to nearly two billion balsam firs in Michigan’s forests.

The insect cannot travel far on its own. One of the biggest concerns is people taking the insect to other parts of the state. A common way pests like this are spread is through transporting firewood from one area to another. Experts advise leaving firewood at home and buy it locally at your destination.

The balsam woolly adelgid comes just shortly after an infestation of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Other trees such as the ash, elm, chestnut have been nearly wiped out by alien insects and blight. Others are not in Michigan yet, but threaten pine trees and maples in other states.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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