While out hiking in the Smokies, Buncombe County Commissioner Brownie Newman was struck by the number of hemlocks he saw that had been destroyed by the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). Newman understood that the loss of hemlocks affected by HWA not only disrupts our scenic views, but more gravely, it negatively impacts water quality, wildlife, plant nurseries, homeowners, and the tourism industry. He came home from his hike determined to address the problem locally. After seeking guidance as to the best course of action from local environmental non-profit, MountainTrue, he presented the problem our hemlocks are facing to the Board of Commissioners and proposed a hemlock preservation project for the county.
In the May 2015 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of 5,000 Laricobius nigrinus beetles to be released on remaining high quality hemlock stands on public and municipally held lands that provide benefit to the county as a whole.
As stated in Haley Benton’s June 3, 2015 article in the Mountain Xpress, “At the meeting, MountainTrue biologist, Josh Kelly, said the only way to guarantee an individual tree’s survival is with chemical treatment. But when talking about an entire forest, ‘this predator-prey relationship, this ecological balance — that’s the bridge to the future.”
- Utilize biological control to save hemlocks on local public lands, prioritizing old-growth Carolina hemlock stands
- Work with Symbiont Biological Pest Management to acquire 5,000 Laricobius nigrinus (Ln) beetles, transferred from Pacific region to Buncombe sites, in order to build up populations of Ln beetles to reduce HWA populations to a level that hemlocks can tolerate
- Work with WNC Communities’ Hemlock Restoration Initiative program (HRI) to administer and facilitate project, with volunteer support from MountainTrue
- Develop local beetle insectaries to reduce long-term dependence on imports from the Pacific NW
- Monitor release sites for establishment and use beetles from insectaries to conduct future releases
“Newman explained that this project will be a multiyear effort, establishing preservation areas for the dwindling Carolina hemlocks and prioritizing the stability of the last remaining old growth groves. The changes will not happen overnight, he said, but reducing the adelgid’s free reign over the Appalachians is a start,’” (Benton, Mountain Xpress, May 19, 2015).
Margot Wallston, Hemlock Restoration Initiative Coordinator, is working with a team of advisors to identify the most important remaining eastern and Carolina hemlock stands in the county and determine whether those stands are in an appropriate condition to receive biological control. As of early 2016, four eastern and nine Carolina hemlock stands and two insectary sites were selected to receive beetles. Site partners include: City of Asheville, NC DMVA, NC WRC, Montreat, and Warren Wilson College. Approximately 2,500 Ln beetles have been released at 10 stands and the remaining 2,500 Ln beetles are scheduled to be released in February – March 2016.
While the stands selected occur primarily on public lands, eventually even private landowners should benefit from these initial releases.
The “Lari” beetles fly and seek out adelgids to munch on regardless of who owns the trees.
The goal is to build up a large enough population of beetles that the adelgid population will be kept in check everywhere.
This project will further serve everyone in Buncombe County because we all benefit from a healthy environment with clean water, stable streams, intact ecological systems, the preservation of rare species and natural vegetation communities, and a reduction in dependence on chemicals.
Multiple additional Carolina hemlock stands have been identified for second round of funding.
The Town of Montreat and the USFS have augmented the Buncombe County project by funding the release of over 2,000 additional beetles at three sites within the county. Read about the USFS releases here.
Another intention of the Buncombe County hemlock preservation project is to serve as a model for what local governments can do on local non-federal public lands. The intention is working. Already neighboring counties, inspired in part by Buncombe’s initiative, are starting to build momentum for developing a plan that addresses and supports their remaining hemlock resources.
John Johnson releasing beetles on Rainbow Mountain, Montreat