One of the first things many people ask about the plight of North Carolina’s hemlocks is: what is the long term plan for hemlock restoration? Good Question.
In the short term, chemically treating surviving trees can conserve hemlock populations while we search for more permanent solutions. The ongoing work of identification, development and release of predator beetles and other biological controls is promising but remains costly and difficult to monitor. A third path towards long term hemlock conservation is selection and breeding for resistance and this is where the Forest Restoration Alliance (FRA) comes in.
The FRA is a nonprofit group of researchers across government organizations and academic institutions committed to rebuilding our adelgid-affected forests. It is led by NC State University’s Dr. Fred Hain. These researchers conduct a selective breeding program, modeled on the success of the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The goal of TACF’s breeding program was to “breed blight resistance from the Chinese chestnut tree into the American chestnut tree, while maintaining the American chestnuts characteristics” (http://www.acf.org/history.php). Today, scientists at the FRA are attempting something similar with hemlocks and their nemesis the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). More information about FRA can be found on their website: http://threatenedforests.com/.
On Wednesday September 28th, a small group of elite hemlock helpers had the pleasure of visiting one of the FRA’s research facilities housed at the NCDA&CS Mountain Research Station in Waynesville NC. Here, FRA research scientist, Dr. Ben Smith, works to identify hemlocks and firs that resist woolly adelgids, to identify mechanisms responsible for resistance, and to develop improved hemlocks and other native trees that are resistant to invasive pest threats.
Volunteers spent a fascinating workday touring the facility and assisting Dr. Smith with several projects, including working in the greenhouse to prepare, tag, and transplant seedlings and rooted cuttings of different hemlock species from a variety of sources, including the “bullet proof” stand of hemlocks near the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey, which show great promise in terms of HWA resistance. Volunteers also had the opportunity to assist in the planting of one of several forested study sites where researchers will monitor potentially resistant eastern hemlock trees against controls to observe their growth and health in a natural forest setting. With so much interest in the work of the FRA and programs like it, more workdays of this kind are sure to follow—providing volunteers with unique insight into the scientific process of restoring balance to native forests threatened by invasive foreign pests.
In the words or Glen Rea, TACF Chairman of the Board, and Bryan Burhans, former TACF President and CEO: “Restoring the trees in our forests is similar to climbing a tall mountain. We have scouted out our best route to the summit. Now we must climb” (Journal of the American Chestnut, pg. 3, March/April 2012).
If you are interested in participating in a volunteer workday with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative and the Forest Restoration Alliance please contact us here: firstname.lastname@example.org