Make America’s Forests Great Again By Protecting Eastern Hemlock

LILY HERBERGER

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign understanding President-elect Trump’s political agenda was mystifying. He constantly changed his views, making it difficult to understand any form of political agenda he might have, or even a set of clear core policy views to expect in his presidency.

But one thing Trump has made clear is that he will not be responsible for protecting the environment. An interview with Fox News in October 2015 went as follows:

Q: Would you cut departments?

Trump: Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come up with new regulations.

Q: Who’s going to protect the environment?

Trump: We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit but you can’t destroy businesses.

Statements like these should be particularly terrifying to anyone living in the United States. We are already changing our environment at a rate that Mother Nature can’t sustain. This creates two main factors that specifically facilitate invasive species establishment and ecosystem decline. First, the consequence of globalization is seen in the increase of transported wildlife to foreign habitats. Second, invasive species are establishing and spreading swiftly as human activity is enabling them by providing disturbed environments for establishment, and making colossal contributions to climate change.

It’s unknown how climate change could potentially alter the range in which invasive species could expand without northern limitations. One invasive insect in particular is already benefitting from warming temperatures.

The hemlock woolly adelgid and its ramifications can be seen throughout the native forests of the eastern United States. This has caused native eastern hemlocks, pillars of the Northeast hardwood forest population, to fall into serious decline. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to explore the hardwood forests of the Northeast has likely witnessed the humble beauty of the eastern hemlock or the Carolina hemlock.

In fact, the eastern hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania, but residents there have already experienced the decline of entire hemlock forests during the past 10 years. The decline is attributed to the introduction and rapid spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid — a small insect native to Asia that has been ravaging U.S. hemlock forests for decades.

The one limitation this pest seems to have in an alien environment is cold, but warming temperatures globally will allow further northern expansion. Native hemlock trees haven’t evolved with this insect and therefore possess no defense against it. Scientists, environmentalists, students, and concerned citizens are putting massive efforts toward figuring out how to preserve our natural hemlock forests.

Despite the multitude of efforts in eradicating and solving the hemlock woolly adelgid invasion, it’s estimated that up to 80 percent of eastern hemlock trees have been killed in some parts of the eastern United States. The combination of longevity, shade tolerance and crown density of hemlock make it an invaluable component of our forest ecosystems. Hemlock stands contribute to the foundation of an ecosystem where other native species of North America can survive.

Ongoing research and efforts are being made to protect and preserve our forests and our native hemlock trees. But once Trump takes his position in the oval office what will happen to these efforts? What will happen to agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect and preserve the environment?

If only Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was referring to protecting the natural beauty of the United States rather than suggesting America needs to backtrack its progress made toward justice and equality.

Forests represent crucial habitats for so much of our country’s unique and irreplaceable wildlife species. If efforts to protect and preserve remaining hemlock trees are stopped, we may lose native hemlocks all together, and with them many other species will suffer and decline. Donald Trump has made it clear that he will not protect our environment. He leaves it up to any American citizen who cares about the value of diverse ecosystems to take the necessary actions to preserve our natural environment.

Lily Herberger is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island studying environmental science.