As we here at HRI wrap up our relatively quiet month of August, we recognize that the world around us is far from calm and peaceful. The pandemic continues to keep us on our toes and reinforce the necessity of learning how to be adaptable. We are grateful and lucky that many in our immediate community remain healthy and safe and that we were able to organize several safe, outdoor group activities this past spring and summer. In addition to a variety of educational workshops, hikes, and other events, we had multiple fun and productive volunteer workdays (on land and via the water) and our first ever volunteer appreciation event to celebrate how indebted we are to everyone who has stuck with us and pitched in to help keep hemlocks healthy despite the obstacles and concessions we occasionally had to make to keep our programming going. This newsletter focuses on the efforts of specific individuals and communities that have become particularly committed to the cause of hemlock conservation. It does not detail the recent management accomplishments of the HRI team and partners, but be reassured that they were busy revisiting HCAs, establishing new ones and working hard to control HWA in eight counties across western NC. You can read more about our chemical and biological control efforts and find past stories here.
Table of Contents
- Acknowledging the Outstanding Service of Our Most Recent AmeriCorps Members: Ben Chase and Logan Dye
- Call to Action–NCFS Wants Your Hemlock Cones
- HRI Supports Private Communities to Protect Their Hemlocks
- Conservation Connections–Private Citizens Go Above and Beyond for Hemlocks
- Volunteer Spotlight: Alex Harvey
- Complex Solutions to Straightforward Problems Require Nuanced Understanding
- HRI Hemlock Hike Series Continues This Fall
Acknowledging the Outstanding Service of Our Most Recent AmeriCorps Members: Ben Chase and Logan Dye
We would like to start this issue by acknowledging all of the hard work, energy, and love that our most recent AmeriCorps Project Conserve members, Ben and Logan, have given to the HRI program and the hemlocks of western North Carolina. Ben served two 11-month terms with HRI from 2019-2021. This fall he is attending Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment to pursue a concurrent degree in Forestry and Environmental Management. Logan served nine months with HRI in 2020 and 2021. Logan’s great enthusiasm and positive attitude in spite of the challenges of serving amidst COVID restrictions were a huge asset to the HRI team. Logan will be serving a second term with Project Conserve for the 2021-2022 term, this time with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy as their Conservation Education & Volunteer Outreach Associate. We are deeply grateful for the impact their service has made, including educating the public, engaging and leading volunteers, treating hemlocks, and supporting HWA biocontrol. In this issue we feature two stories written by Ben (“Complex Solutions to Straightforward Problems”) and Logan (“HRI Supports Private Communities”) reflecting on their AmeriCorps service with HRI. We hope you enjoy them.
Call to Action–NCFS Wants Your Hemlock Cones
Last fall, many in the HRI family responded to our call to action to help the NC Forest Service collect hemlock cones for the Linville River Nursery. In total, the NCFS acquired 417 pounds of eastern cones and 8 pounds of Carolina cones! Being able to harvest a large number of cones is important because each cone may only yield a few viable seeds and it takes a lot of seed to produce the output they’re aiming for; therefore, the NCFS would love to receive donations of ripe cones again this year. They are looking for Carolina hemlock cones in particular, but eastern hemlock cones will be helpful too. It is important that cones are collected at the right time and stored in a way that they do not rot or drop their seed. If you have hemlocks and would like to be involved, contact us at email@example.com to receive more information about when and how to collect and where to deliver your cones after they are collected.
HRI Supports Private Communities to Protect Their Hemlocks
by Logan Dye, 2020-2021 AmeriCorps Stewardship and Conservation Education Associate with HRI
A conservation need I learned about during the first half of my AmeriCorps term is protecting private property and educating private property owners. I grew up going to national forests and other public lands and was always hyper-aware of the land management practices that went into protecting and stewarding that public land. However, I never considered all of the many acres of forested land on private property. In western North Carolina, it is not uncommon for individuals or communities to have large amounts of land protected or preserved through land trusts, but they do not always have the knowledge or resources to actively manage that land. What first opened my eyes to this was when the Hemlock Restoration Initiative team was asked to help facilitate hemlock treatments on land owned by the French Broad Crossing community in Marshall, NC, and subsequently to assist the members of Connestee Falls in Brevard, NC, to advance their hemlock preservation program. Like many other gated communities in western North Carolina, both have a certain amount of land set aside to keep in its natural condition. They use this land for recreation, such as walking trails. Within the conserved land is a ton of massive hemlock trees at risk of dying.
Fortunately for the hemlocks, the community members began to notice and decided they must do something to protect their home forests. They took the initiative to contact HRI, rally the troops, conduct inventories, garner community support and approval, and develop a treatment plan. Without the private landowners stepping up, this would never have been possible, and the trees on-site would be lost forever. Unfortunately, this is far too common of an occurrence and often without the happy ending. Due to my AmeriCorps service and being a part of the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, I watched how willing the French Broad Crossing and Connestee Falls communities were to protect their trees. Seeing this reinvigorated my desire to continue educating private landowners on conservation practices. It would have been very easy for the community members to do nothing and allow their hemlocks to die out, but because they had eager members and HRI’s support, they could protect critical habitat. I hope HRI continues our efforts to engage private landowners who have embraced the responsibility to steward their land.
As Logan referenced in his reflection on supporting private communities, this spring HRI got to work with the Connestee Falls community in Brevard to protect their many hemlocks. As part of the Connestee Falls Property Owners Association’s “Care for Our Natural Environment” initiative, community members including the intrepid Trail Stewards came together to assess the hemlocks lining 18 miles of trails throughout the community inventorying over 2,400 hemlocks.
Board member Mary Freudenberg reached out to HRI in June of 2020 seeking to collaborate. HRI gave an educational presentation via Zoom in January 2021, and there was clearly a strong interest from residents to protect hemlocks on their own lots and the common POA property. Community member Lisa Smith took charge of leading the community Trail Stewards to inventory and assess Connestee’s hemlocks and set priority areas for treatment. HRI staff and the Trail Stewards teamed up for two work days in April to treat 433 trees along trails and near the main entrance. Through these two work days, community members learned how to safely and efficiently treat the hemlocks, and they plan to continue the effort to protect their hemlocks this fall.
Conservation Connections Continue–Private Citizens Go Above and Beyond for Hemlocks
Besides the communities HRI has worked with directly on cost/workshare projects, there have been some other outstanding landowners who have stepped up to take action and make a huge impact on the health of the hemlocks in their communities and neighborhoods. One such person is Randy Catlin.
Randy was one of HRI’s earliest volunteers, first joining us for multiple days of hemlock treatment in DuPont State Recreational Forest back in April 2016. After he felt confident with the process and our protocols, he quickly took the initiative to help protect the hemlocks in his community of Glen Cannon, in Brevard. As the Greenway Steward for the community, Randy single-handedly chemically treated dozens of large, sick hemlocks on the steep banks of the greenway above Camp Creek. Randy sweated and toiled in his effort to save those trees, and if it hadn’t been for his dedication, there likely would be few left standing today. This past spring, Randy decided to set sail (literally) around the world and said goodbye to the greenway and the community of Glen Cannon but not before ensuring that someone new would fill his role as steward and humble hemlock helper. Randy has ‘passed the torch’ to Ron Harney. So if you live in Glen Cannon, reach out to Ron to offer your support. He will be recruiting volunteers to help finish the work Randy started while there is still time. And if you hear from Randy, or catch sight of him on the high seas, let us know where his maritime adventures have taken him so far!
We plan to feature one community member in each of our future newsletters who has gone above and beyond to protect the hemlocks in their community. If you know of someone whose efforts deserve recognition, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 828-252-8743 to let us know who you have in mind.
Volunteer Spotlight: Alex Harvey
The Hemlock Restoration Initiative could not do what we do without the help of our hard-working volunteers. Our “Volunteer Spotlight” highlights the contributions of one especially dedicated volunteer.
When asked what he would like to say to potential future volunteers, Alex Harvey said, “Treating hemlocks is one of the greatest things you can do to help the environment, but it’s also a pleasure. It becomes part of the padding trip like riding a wave or going over a boof. You’ll be surprised how fun it is.”
Repeatedly hopping in and out of your kayak to scramble up and down the steep slopes of a deep river gorge, through rhodo thickets, covered in full body clothing, and sometimes dragging a water-logged sprayskirt and drybags full of treatment equipment along with you doesn’t feel like work to Alex Harvey, a long-time HRI volunteer with PHHAT and landowner with hundreds of hemlocks. PHHAT, or the Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce, is a multi-organizational partnership that has been utilizing volunteers with expert paddling experience to protect hemlocks along the Green River since 2017, and Alex has been a linchpin of the project since its inception. (Read more about PHHAT at paddlersforhemlocks.com or in our previous posts.)
Alex first became aware of the threat to native hemlocks when he purchased land in 2016 near Saluda, NC, adjacent to the Green River Game Land. He noticed the hemlocks on his property were sick, so he did research on what, if anything, could be done to restore them to health. Initially interested in biological control due to the large number of trees on his property, Alex decided that, due to the challenge of procuring HWA predator beetles, he would try to chemically treat as many of his trees as he could. To date, he has treated about 400 hemlocks on his own property, as well as a few dozen for neighbors.
After starting to treat his own trees, Alex, an avid paddler for over 40 year, began to notice the hemlocks suffering from HWA along the upper stretches of the Green River near his property. He remembered thinking, “Wow! There are thousands of hemlocks along the Green River.” Alex was not only concerned about the threat that losing the hemlocks posed to the beauty and ecology of the river system but also the impact on paddling. So in October of 2016, Alex reached out to HRI. In his first email to us he mentioned, “The Green River Gorge is a whitewater kayaking destination whose access could be in jeopardy due to treefalls and subsequent erosion. Thus I believe the paddling community could be rallied, significantly accelerating the process of treating trees in this area.”
Little did Alex know at the time, but his initial email would lead to the treatment of approximately 3,200 hemlocks (and counting!) by PHHAT volunteers. Starting with the initial conversations between staff at American Whitewater, HRI, and himself, Alex has been involved with PHHAT every step of the way, all as a volunteer. Looking back on the process, he remembers all the thought and planning that went into getting the project off the ground. Extreme persistence and determination were required to convince the partner organizations it could be done, as well as to establish the special protocols that would ensure safe transport of chemicals in whitewater situations, commit to training and licensing team leaders, and then to recruit volunteers to do the “fun work” described above. Alex did all this and more while maintaining an infectious enthusiasm for the project.
For Alex, one of the most rewarding aspects of developing the PHHAT project has been “seeing the paddling community come together to make something happen.” Another is knowing that PHHAT volunteers have treated so many trees. “If we just got 100 trees done it would have been good, but we’ve done thousands now,” he said. “I can’t think of another river system that has had such an intensive hemlock treatment as the Green.” (Coupled with HRI’s land-based treatments, the total number of trees treated in the Green River Game Land since 2017 has crested 10,000!) “It doesn’t happen overnight,” he noted, “but the trees are beginning to bounce back. They might not all make it, but several are now starting to look better.”
The results are a huge testament to Alex’s passion and personal investment in the project. Without his leadership and perseverance, it could have easily gone wrong or fizzled out, but it did not, and the PHHAT project has been a huge success. Thanks Alex for sticking with it! We are so grateful for you, and the trees and the river love you for it too!!
Complex Solutions to Straightforward Problems Require Nuanced Understanding
by Ben Chase, 2019-2021 AmeriCorps Stewardship and Volunteer Engagement Associate with HRI
The invasive hemlock woolly adelgid is a pest that is causing widespread mortality of hemlock trees in eastern forests. The problem is fairly straightforward–a bug is feeding on and ultimately killing trees. The solution to the problem is much more complex. Should we try to remove the adelgid from the ecosystem again? Focus on the trees themselves and help them adapt to the presence of the adelgid? Construct a new, balanced food web around the hemlock woolly adelgid that reduces the stress on hemlock trees? Before starting my service, my understanding was that genetic research to develop resistance to invasive pests was the holy grail of conservation. Like many people, I had heard about the efforts to restore the American chestnut, and that formed the basis of my understanding. Unlike the chestnut, hemlock trees are still alive in the ecosystem and are suffering from a completely different pest, so there are many more conservation solutions available rather than attempting to restore the species from scratch.
Each solution could be worked on independently and may be successful in the end. By diversifying the approaches taken to keep hemlock trees in the ecosystem and pursuing them simultaneously, it not only avoids “putting all our eggs in one basket,” it also means that progress in one area can complement the work done in another area. Introducing predators of the hemlock woolly adelgid could balance out the impacts of the adelgid, but biocontrol takes time to research and develop with no guarantee of success. Trees may also die in the meantime, so a fast acting solution is critical to maintaining tree health and the ecosystem benefits they provide. Chemical treatments provide immediate protection to trees, but the protection only lasts a short amount of time. Treatments are also costly and labor intensive, meaning that continually protecting trees in this way requires continued investment. Integrating pest management strategies maintains short term ecosystem health while balancing the costs of those solutions with progress in other areas.
Before starting my AmeriCorps service with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, my understanding of conservation and invasive species management lacked this nuance. News stories about invasive species or species restoration tend to focus on single facets of solutions and whether there has been a development or setback. Learning about issues and approaches through that lens often leaves out the pieces that are either not “newsworthy” or not well-resourced enough to share information. When we talk with people who are worried about the possible risks of introducing biological control agents, we often say that if they aren’t hearing about it in the news, it likely isn’t causing a problem. Slow but steady progress often doesn’t make a good news story, so people rarely hear about biological controls that have been successful. And when biological controls are only partially successful or support other strategies through integrated pest management, they don’t hear about it at all. By being involved with invasive species management, I’ve seen incremental progress that doesn’t attract much attention as well as the consequences of taking no steps in the short term to prevent the decline of trees. Only pursuing strategies that are newsworthy or investing resources into long-term, idealistic solutions means that many trees and the ecosystem services they provide will be lost.
HRI Hemlock Hike Series Continues This Fall
As we look towards fall and anticipate the temperatures beginning to cool, causing the leaves on the deciduous trees to begin to drop, we are enthusiastically planning our monthly hemlock hike series through the end of the year.
These hikes take us to public lands across our region where we can travel through hemlock conservation areas and observe the positive impacts of recent restoration efforts. It’s a great way to see hemlocks in their native environment, experience first-hand why these trees are called foundation and keystone species, and discover new trails and public lands you may not have known about previously. The hikes also provide an opportunity to meet others who are interested in hemlock conservation and forest health, as well as learn about ways to pitch in directly to support the cause. Some of our most dedicated volunteers first came to know us on a hike (shout out to Chuck S, Susan D., and Christoph B!!)–little did they know they’d quickly “catch the bug” and become fervent hemlock healers!
Recent past hikes, ranging from gentle strolls to strenuous climbs and steep descents, include multiple trails in Pisgah National Forest, the Green River Game Lands, DuPont State Forest, the NC Arboretum, the Asheville Botanical Gardens, and several privately conserved properties in Fairview and Black Mountain.
This fall we’ll be going to South Mountains State Park in September (sign up soon!), Grandfather Mountain State Park in October, the NC Arboretum in November, and Sandy Mush Game Land in December. Visit our Events page to learn more about each one and how to RSVP. We hope to see you on the trail!