GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Leaves will begin changing colors across West Michigan in the coming weeks. In Grand Haven, two Grand Valley State University professors are looking at the trees for other reasons.

Larry Burns, GVSU professor of psychology, and his son Nathan spent much of the pandemic taking walks through Duncan Woods in Grand Haven. They noticed many trees had metal tags, a project GVSU Professor of Natural Resources Management Ali Locher was behind.

“We tagged and treated all of the hemlocks with an insecticide called ‘imidacloprid.’ It’s not a cure, all it did was buy us some time to try and figure this out,” said Locher.

Locher, along with dozens of students, have been working to stop invasive species from killing off trees in Duncan Woods, Mulligan’s Hollow and Lake Forest Cemetery. The group is focusing on three invasive species: the woolly adelgid, an insect that attacks hemlocks, a fungal disease called oak wilt in oak trees, and an insect-fungal combination called beech bark disease that goes for beech trees.

“We establish a perimeter around a sick oak tree, and then we inject the oak trees around it with a fungicide, which will not prevent the (oak wilt fungus) from coming into the tree, but it will prevent it from killing it,” said Burns. 

The Hemlock treatment project is well underway and will continue for years. On average, the insecticide is injected every six years. Rob Larson, GVSU graduate student in biology, has been assisting Locher with the project. He says it is vital to continue this work.

“Eastern hemlocks are up and down the whole lakeshore in the dune system, which means they provide a unique habitat for certain species,” Larson said.

To continue work on this project, Burns says the public support is needed. He has since launched “Adopt a Hemlock“. With a donation of at least $15, you will receive a tree tag number as well as a the latitude and longitude coordinates.

Cody Kraus, GVSU senior, has been working on supporting trees in urban Grand Haven.

“If we can get people educated on how to best to maintain their trees, what trees to maintain, that alone will take a huge weight off the urban forest system,” he said.

Locher says the ultimate goal is to reduce the spread of invasive species and save trees for future generations to enjoy.

“You know, if we’re not recognizing that value and taking action to make sure they’re protected, we got nothing. We won’t be able to breathe that easy,” said Locher.