RALEIGH – Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler today announced additional funding for efforts to restore North Carolina’s hemlock trees to long-term health.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will use $250,000 from the state’s legal settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to continue supporting the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, which began last year. Over the next three years, the investment will support direct interventions on state and private lands, coordination of resources, and increasing volunteer efforts to save hemlock stands throughout the state.
Hemlocks across Western North Carolina are being decimated by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that sucks the sap of young twigs, which leads to tree death. While thousands of trees have already died in the state, an integrated approach to pest management is showing positive results for the long-term survival of Eastern and Carolina hemlocks.
“We are committed to the fight to save North Carolina’s hemlocks,” Troxler said. “No one method of treatment is going to solve this problem, and the Hemlock Restoration Initiative brings together all the knowledge and support at our disposal. We’ve got to use existing approaches – and develop new tools – to give the hemlocks a fighting chance.”
Recent efforts at combating the adelgid show promise for preserving existing stands and re-establishing hemlocks in areas where they have died. These include the introduction of predator insects that eat adelgids, the search for naturally resistant trees, and efforts to breed in resistance from similar tree species.
WNC Communities is the department’s primary partner in the Hemlock Restoration Initiative. The Asheville-based nonprofit has experience in grants management, project development and using partnerships to achieve goals that benefit the region.
Linda Lamp, executive director of WNC Communities, said the organization expects to announce a competitive call for proposals for research awards by early summer.
In 2014, the Hemlock Restoration Initiative made three $25,000 research awards to organizations pursuing different methods to save the hemlocks:
- Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development is funding efforts to introduce Laricobius nigrinis, a tiny beetle native to Washington state that eats only adelgids, into the forests of Western North Carolina. Research results announced in late 2014 indicate the beetles may have begun to spread in the wild around Grandfather Mountain.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is coordinating with the National Park Service to identify and treat hemlocks on the parkway to preserve views. The immediate use of proven chemical treatments on the root system of hemlocks is effective in defending the trees for several years. This near-term intervention not only preserves trees for visitors to enjoy, but may also serve to keep trees alive until ecological approaches to managing the adelgid bear fruit.
- Southwestern Resource Conservation and Development is assisting research efforts to identify and propagate hemlocks exhibiting resistance to adelgid death. Research plots are located at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville.
The department is allocating the new funding over a three-year period. A portion of the money will support continued research into battling the adelgid, as well as supporting a full-time state coordinator and introduction of treatment methods on state and private lands. This funding will be used to attract matching funds from the U.S. Forest Service, private foundations, individuals and other sources with a shared goal of restoring hemlocks to their natural places.
Bill Yarborough, special assistant for Western North Carolina
NCDA & CS, 828-507-2273