August is a month of transition for the Hemlock Restoration Initiative. Not only are we moving out of our soporific summer season, where we quasi-aestivate like the hemlock woolly adelgid and Laricobius beetles, into planning and preparing for the bustling fall season ahead of us, we are also in a period of pauperdom where we must subsist without the invaluable support of the HRI AmeriCorps Associate. The AmeriCorps Project Conserve term runs 11 months from September through July, leaving our office barren and fallow for the month of August.

During this quiet time of solitude, I’d like to extend our gratitude to our 2018-19 AmeriCorps Associate, Hanusia Higgins, who dedicated considerable time and energy to helping the HRI improve and grow. Hanusia used her skills and tech-savvy talents to create new educational content and outreach materials, including well-designed newsletters; informational pamphlets, posters, and flyers; podcasts; Instagram stories; surveys and more. She helped us secure funds for our treatment training workshops and PHHAT partnership. She also helped us define and refine policies and procedures that will aide us as we grow and mature as a program…not to mention the countless trees she treated, Laricobius beetles she recovered and hemlock jeopardy games she got to facilitate at local festivals and community events…We appreciate Hanusia for her high quality work, unique perspective, constructive ideas and delicious vegan baking and cooking! We wish her the best as she enters into a master’s program at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, where she will continue to tackle forest health issues and intractable invasive species such as the emerald ash borer.

As we solemnly say goodbye to Hanusia, we anticipatorily await the arrival of our 2019-2020 AmeriCorps Associate, Ben Chase.¬†Ben grew up in Florida and graduated from Stetson University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science. As a botanist, Ben has worked for the Bureau of Land Management, the Utah Geological Survey, and most recently as lead field technician for a forest ecology lab at Washington University in St. Louis. He is interested in conservation issues regarding invasive species and land use and is excited to explore those interests as the HRI Stewardship and Volunteer Engagement Associate through AmeriCorps Project Conserve. Aside from being a plant enthusiast, Ben enjoys running, hiking, and playing board games.

We are incredibly excited for Ben to join our team and hope you will join us in extending him a warm welcome. Ben will begin his term in early September and can be reached at

To learn more about the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program and the 32 other amazing individuals who serve at 16 other conservation-based non-profits throughout Western North Carolina, visit