Mild Winter Means More Pests – For Both Flora And Fauna

Marlinton, WV – Less snow shoveling and less wood hauling might have been good for your back, during the mild winter, but the abnormal weather has caused a greater health threat to humans, pets and trees. The early onset of warm weather has allowed disease-carrying ticks and tree-destroying insects to thrive.

As many as 30,000 people in the U.S. contracted Lyme disease in 2010. The tiny black-legged, or deer tick, transmits Lyme disease to humans. In most cases, a tick must be attached to your body from 24 to 36 hours for the Lyme disease bacteria to enter your bloodstream.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease include body-wide itching; chills, fever, headache, muscle aches, neck ache, general ill-feeling and a circular rash at the spot of the bite. Call your health care provider if you have symptoms, especially if you may have been exposed to ticks. Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics if treated early. Left untreated, the disease can cause long-term joint, heart, brain and nervous system disorders.

Experts recommend the B-L-A-S-T method to avoid tick-borne diseases. Bathe or shower soon after coming indoors. Look for ticks and remove with tweezers. Apply repellents for skin and/or clothing. Spray the perimeter of your yard for ticks, and treat your pets. For more information, contact your local health department, or see the Tick Borne Alliance website at

The mild winter also is allowing earlier feeding by insects that are annihilating eastern hemlock and beech trees in the tri-county area. Hemlock wooly adelgid bugs are widespread and the beech scale insect already has devastated beech stands in the tri-county area. Pocahontas County WVU extension agent Greg Hamons explains why the mild weather is hastening the destruction.

“The early winter and warmer weather is actually leading to earlier feeding, of course, earlier sap flow,” he said. “The vascular tissue in hemlock and beech is flowing, earlier in the season than it typically is. They’re going to produce leaves earlier, get into photosynthesis earlier, leading to earlier feeding by these insects and increased damage, earlier in the season.”

Spots of a white foamy substance on hemlock needles indicate adelgid infestation, which usually kills the tree in three to five years. Hamons says all hemlocks in Pocahontas County probably are now infected.

“At this point, as far as the hemlock wooly adelgid goes, it’s probably – if you have hemlock trees in your yard or in some of your property, or in the national forest close to your home – typically, from what I’ve seen, it’s close to 100-percent coverage in Pocahontas County on those hemlock trees.”

The beech scale insect acts much like a tick on humans. It feeds on beech bark and introduces a disease to the tree. Hamons says there is hope that some beech trees will survive.

“Some institutes, some universities have reported 10 to 20-percent resistance in some stands of beech trees,” he said. “Yes, we’re going to see a reduction in beech tree numbers. A lot of those are going to die out. But, hopefully, with that 10 to 20 percent resistance, we’re going to see a regenerated population, eventually, of resistant trees.”

Salvaging trees before they are destroyed is an option.

“Some large landowners have timber production in mind,” he said. “They may do what is called or what is referred to as a salvage harvest – to go ahead and eliminate those beech trees or hemlock trees – to kind of salvage the value of those trees early on, so they don’t completely lose them.”

Hamons says individual trees can be saved.

“If you’re on a small scale and you’d like to do a treatment to save some specific trees, there are some insecticidal soaps, or horticultural oils, that you can apply,” he said. “There are also some insecticides that you can actually buy to inject into those trees that’ll control some of these diseases and insects to actually save those trees. However, they are pretty expensive.”

For more information, contact your county extension agent.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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