Hi all you tree huggers out there…if you haven’t already, meet Kate O’Connor. Kate is here in the Beaverkill Valley all year mapping and educating the area on the mighty hemlock tree and its imminent threat from the hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) – an invasive forest pest native to Japan.
Kate is on a year-long assignment to our region via the Cornell Department of Natural Resources and the NY State Hemlock Initiative. A research technician and field representative, she is based out of the Catskill Mountainkeeper office on Main Street in Livingston Manor – but spends most of her time out in the field, surveying local hemlock stands, educating property owners, facilitating management strategies and scouting for biocontrol release sites. Kate works on private properties and with the DEC in their public lands and forests (e.g., the Covered Bridge Campsite, Balsam Lake Wild Forest, Willowemoc Wild Forest, Delaware Wild Forest, etc.)
As many of you know, the hemlock was an abundant and iconic mainstay of the Valley back when settlement and upstate migrations began in the 19th Century. The trees were not harvested for their wood, but for the bark – which was an essential component of the animal skin tanning process of that era. The Beaverkill Tannery was one the last to survive (still operational in the 1850s) before modernization of tanning processes began utilizing synthetic chemicals and – unfortunately – its appetite for the bark resulted in much of the local hemlock population being decimated. Only a few trees survive from before the turn of the 20th Century (the “pre-disturbance original growth”), which are now quietly protected by folks like Kate, along with her fellow researchers and forest managers. There is, however, now over a century of second growth trees – some of which have emerged from under the forest canopy to become quite large and majestic residents of the Valley.
For lots more information about hemlocks, the wooly adelgid and the biocontrols Cornell is developing, check out this website: https://blogs.cornell.edu/nyshemlockinitiative/
Also, a fine map and even more information is to be found in Michael Kudish’s book “The Catskill Forest: A History”. Available at the Morgan Outdoors shop (Livingston Manor) and on the Catskill Interpretive Center website.
You can also, and are encouraged to, reach out directly to Kate. She will gladly set up an appointment to stop by your property to examine any hemlocks you have (or think you may have) and assess what measures may be in order to keep them healthy and robust.
Katharine O’Connor – firstname.lastname@example.org