TRAVERSE CITY — Local environmental advocates want private landowners to help them track whether an invasive bug has trekked this far north.

Officials with the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network ask property owners across several counties to help them look for invasive hemlock woolly adelgid insects.

The nonprofit organization offers free land surveys this winter, so long as hemlocks grow on the site.

The survey work began last winter at area parks, nature preserves and some homeowner association properties across Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties to look for the tiny, aphid-like invasive insects.

No hemlock woolly adelgids — often called by acronyn HWA — were found in the region last winter, said Audrey Menninga, invasive species specialist with the network.

Winter surveys are meant to help minimize any spread of the pest insect and because it’s easier to find the woolly mass of HWA ovisacs underneath hemlock needles that time of year.

This winter, the goal is to focus on private properties, Menninga said.

HWA invasions have wrecked huge areas of forest in the eastern U.S. and Appalachian Mountains, and have begun to march their way both west and north. Infestations have been found along Lower Michigan’s western coast on Lake Michigan, as nearby as Oceana County.

Menninga said the Asian insects are difficult to spot, but are known to settle at the base of hemlock needles to feed off the trees’ nutrient supply, eventually killing the tree.

“It’s not an immediate death. It usually takes 5 to 10 years,” she said, with needles and entire branches dying off over time.

Monnie Peters, of Old Mission Peninsula, said she keeps informed about invasive species and her “ears were up” for new threats. That’s why she worked to have land owned by the Neahtawanta Resort Association inspected for HWA last winter, she said.

They didn’t find any, Peters said.

She said national nonprofit The Nature Conservancy identified Neahtawanta Point as home to high-quality hemlock stands. That’s why vigilance for HWA is so important there, Peters said.

“When you have these invasive species and you don’t do anything about it, then 5, 6, 7 years later you find its taken over,” she said.

Menninga said landowners who wish to participate this winter should first try to identify any hemlocks on their property. Additional parameters for participants are for tracts to be 25 acres or larger within 10 miles of Lake Michigan in the network’s four-county service area.

Special consideration will be given to land on the Manistee River, along the boundary between Manistee and Mason counties, or where planted hemlocks were recently purchased through a company that bypasses traditional state inspections, like online retailers.

The Nature Conservancy’s Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program helped to fund this HWA survey work.

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