Winter 2023 Newsletter
From The Director
Dear Friends of HRI,
As we reflect on the busy fall field season at HRI, we are filled with gratitude for all those who played a crucial role in restoring our hemlocks. We are fortunate to have an amazing team this year – the best and biggest we’ve had yet! Their tireless efforts in treating trees, searching for beetles, and educating landowners are truly inspiring. Of course, as with seasons past, the achievements of our team were elevated by the support of our partners and the generous contributions of our volunteers and donors who showed up to offer their support in multiple ways, including on Giving Tuesday and beyond.
We would like to extend our appreciation to our agency partners, whose hard work and support have made this season a great success. These partners include the NCDA&CS, NC Parks and Recreation, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the USDA Forest Service–including Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, and multiple NGOs. One, in particular, deserves special recognition: the North Carolina Forest Service, with the support of the BRIDGE program, treated close to 5,000 hemlocks on Dupont and Broyhill State Forests and South Mountains State Park in only nine days this past fall!
Additionally, we had the opportunity to assist in some exciting research projects to advance HWA-integrated pest management strategies conducted right here in our backyard, including those led by the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, Camcore, the NCDA&CS Beneficial Insect Lab, and the Forest Restoration Alliance. These projects ranged from ongoing evaluation of planted hemlock restoration plots to looking for more efficient ways to rear and release HWA predator beetles to assessing how silvicultural practices may benefit hemlocks in the understory. We are thrilled to be part of such an active and engaged community of partners whose work is expanding our knowledge and understanding of hemlock management.
We are also excited to share the “2023 By the Numbers” report with you, which highlights the impressive statistics of our work this year.
Thank you for your continued support in our mission to preserve the hemlocks. We hope you enjoy this newsletter and we look forward to updating you on our progress.
In this Issue
Click any title to jump to the article.
Year in Numbers
Hemlock Conservation Area Spotlight
Education Event Photo Story
New Pages on the Website
Volunteer Spotlight: Chuck Hackford
Conservation Connection Corner: Matt Baker
Hemlock Conservation Area Spotlight
This winter’s featured Hemlock Conservation Area (HCA) showcases cheerful streams, diverse flora, and mature, healthy hemlocks. Located along one of the easiest-to-access trail networks in the Green River Game Land, this HCA has high recreational and ecological value.
In our records, we call this HCA the Pulliam Creek / Rock Hop / Bishop Branch Trail Network, but for the sake of simplicity, we shortened it to Pulliam Creek. On the map below, you can see how this trail network winds through areas of protected hemlocks, denoted by the yellow polygons.
This fall, our forestry crew returned to Pulliam Creek for the HCA’s first re-treatment. The crew treated 639 trees over three days and also expanded the treatment polygon to include some hemlocks not originally treated in 2017. The crew noted that the hemlocks originally treated in 2017 had dense, healthy foliage, and re-treating them will ensure they stay that way for another 5-10 years.
In total, HRI has helped keep the Green River green by treating over 9,000 hemlock trees in the 14,331-acre game land in partnership with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, which manages the game land. Concurrent with chemical treatment, HRI has released HWA predator beetles nearby as part of an integrated pest management strategy. Therefore, in certain portions of this HCA, 25%-30% of trees were intentionally not retreated so that they may support the beetle population when they start to become reinfested. The crew actively monitors the site for the presence of these special adelgid eaters and has been successful in finding them on multiple occasions.
Our Pulliam Creek HCA is just one of many throughout the Green River Game Land, some of which have been treated by a unique program in which paddlers treat hemlocks inaccessible by foot.
Speaking of whitewater kayakers, anyone who has watched the world-famous Green River Narrows Race will be familiar with the Pulliam Creek Trail. The trail is one of two possible routes to reach the Narrows, a section of the Green River where kayakers gather once a year to test themselves against the Southeast’s premier steep creek. In this section, the river drops an astonishing 400 ft in 1.5 miles and channels through a 6-foot-wide crevice.
Pulliam Creek is one of the many tributaries leading into the Green River, and maintaining the health of the hemlocks along this tributary and others is essential for keeping the Green River clean. Healthy streamside hemlocks reduce erosion, filter pollution, and increase dissolved oxygen for freshwater animals.
Experiencing the Pulliam Creek HCA
Taking a stroll through the Pulliam Creek HCA is a delight for the senses. The best place to park is at the Bishop Branch Trailhead, denoted by the green star on the above map.
This HCA is one of those perfect Appalachian mountain hikes, where the trail follows the path of a tumbling creek, and the sound of cheerful water mixes with birdsong high up in the trees. There are also several stream crossings to add a little sense of adventure to your outing.
And, of course, the hemlocks steal the show. They line the creeks, leaning over the water to catch the sun, their dense canopies creating pockets of shade. In many places, the bank beside the trail is steep and hikers can admire the way the hemlock roots cling to earth, forming themselves around rocks and the lay of the land.
If this sounds like the kind of place you would like to visit, the good news is that we will lead a guided hike here on March 17. It is a tradition at HRI to visit the Green River Game Land for a St. Patrick’s Day hike, and this year, you are invited to join us to experience the Pulliam Creek HCA. See our event post for more information about this year’s hike.
Click through to see some of our favorite moments from the past six months.
On January 10, HRI staff virtually attended the “HWA Initiative: Biological Control Working Group Meeting.” This annual meeting is put on by the USDA Forest Service at the start of the USDA Interagency Research Forum on Invasive Species. During the meeting, predator-rearing labs shared updates, researchers presented new findings, and land managers discussed the establishment of predator populations.
That’s why for this year’s newsletter, we wanted to highlight recent biological control efforts. For anyone unfamiliar, biocontrol is defined as using beneficial insects or pathogens to control unwanted species. In the case of hemlock woolly adelgid, researchers have studied many potential species over the years, with recent efforts focused on Laricobius beetles and silver flies (Leucotaraxis).
One realm of research that we are excited to follow is eDNA. Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a relatively new technique in invasive species management. This method involves collecting and analyzing small samples of water, soil, or other environmental materials for the DNA of the target species.
At the meeting, Tonya Bittner presented the New York State Hemlock Initiative’s research on eDNA. This lab’s 2022 research paper focused on detecting hemlock woolly adelgid, Laricobius beetles, and Leucotaraxis silver flies. Using careful research methods, the researchers were able to collect the eDNA of these species in a positive correlation with the observed density.
So, what does that mean for us?
Continued development of eDNA methods could mean earlier detection and faster response to HWA infestation. This is because we currently detect HWA by visually inspecting trees for signs of infestation, whereas eDNA methods can detect the presence of HWA much earlier and with greater accuracy. It can also be used to detect biocontrol species, which will be especially useful when evaluating the establishment of Leucotaraxis because the flies are inconspicuous and difficult to detect in the field.
Leucotaraxis silver flies
You might be wondering: who is this new kid on the biocontrol block? HRI has been talking about Laricobius beetles for years, but Leucotaraxis is an exciting newer development. Just as Laricobius nigrinus is a native HWA predator in western North America, so are the two species of Leucotaraxis, Le. argenticollis and Le. piniperda, currently under investigation.
Leucotaraxis silver flies. are a type of predatory fly that feeds on the eggs of HWA during their larval life stage. They complement Laricobius beetles, as they feed on HWA over a longer portion of the adelgid’s life cycle than Laricobius. The establishment of these two silver fly species would likely result in increased HWA control.
It is especially exciting that continued understanding of Leucotaraxis is happening concurrently with the development of eDNA. When researchers release these insects into the field, they need to know when and where the species become established. Leucotaraxis has proved more difficult to recover than Laricobius, so eDNA is a promising new tool for studying release timing and procedures.
For more information about silver fly or eDNA research, check out the New York State Hemlock Initiative website by clicking here.
HRI Biocontrol History
Since our inception, HRI has been deeply involved with Laricobius establishment and monitoring efforts in North Carolina. In 2014 and 2015, HRI supported the Blue Ridge Resource and Conservation Development Council to hold workshops for conservation partners on how to select sites and establish Laricobius nigrinus insectaries. Over the following three years, Buncombe County supported HRI to advance the effort to establish L. nigrinus in hemlock stands throughout the county with the knowledge that the beetles released in the county would eventually disperse to other parts of WNC.
Both of these projects led to additional interest by town and public land natural resource managers, such as the Town of Montreat’s decision to incorporate L. nigrinus beetles into an IPM strategy to manage their many hemlocks. HRI has been conducting strategic releases and monitoring both release sites and non-release sites for signs of Laricobius spp. establishment throughout the state’s hemlock populations ever since.
When the NCDA&CS decided to start rearing a colony of Laricobius beetles in their Beneficial Insect Lab in Cary, NC, HRI was in a perfect position to supply them with beetles and to further support the lab by collecting infested branches to serve as a food for the hungry little helpers as they grow. HRI continues to work with multiple partners to integrate biological control into the larger strategic effort to manage and control HWA across the state. If you are curious whether these tiny little predators are feasting on HWA on your trees, the next few months are the perfect time to look! See the how-to instructions on our website and please let us know what you find!
New Pages on the Website
Are you looking to buy hemlocks or find someone to treat the trees you already own? Or perhaps you are a business owner providing one of these services? We have developed two new pages on our website to help connect landowners with hemlock-related businesses. Check them out by clicking on the links below. We are also still looking for businesses to add, so get in touch if you or someone you know wants to be included.
Volunteer Spotlight: In Memory of Chuck Hackford (1947 – 2022)
The Hemlock Restoration Initiative could not do what we do without the help of our hard-working volunteers. Each newsletter we like to highlight the contributions of one especially dedicated volunteer. In this issue we would like to recognize one of our earliest volunteers, Chuck Hackford, who, we were grieved to learn, passed away in November 2022. Chuck’s wife Ann graciously sat down with us to share her memories and stories about Chuck for this article.
Chuck Hackford recognized there was a problem with his hemlock trees right away. Four mature hemlocks lined the driveway up to the house near Brevard that he and his wife, Ann, moved into after coming to Western North Carolina from Oregon in 2016. Chuck, being attuned to nature as a lifelong hunter, hiker, and lover of the Earth, could tell something was wrong with the hemlocks. “They don’t look well,” he said to Ann. As he explored their new six-acre property adjacent to DuPont State Recreational Forest, he found more hemlocks in dire condition.
With a little help from his sister in Georgia, who had been treating hemlocks on her property, Chuck discovered that his trees were suffering from HWA. This led him to reach out to HRI in the fall of 2016 for information on how he could help his hemlocks. We invited Chuck and Ann to come volunteer with us to learn how to treat their hemlocks, and shortly thereafter they joined us for the first of several volunteer days at DuPont, becoming part of the early cadre of HRI volunteers.
“When I am here, I understand who I am. I understand why I am here. It is simply to find peace with myself. With this knowledge, the world isn’t so big and the trivia of everyday life is meaningless.”Chuck Hackford
Chuck was especially interested in helping the hemlocks at DuPont, which was effectively a very large extension of his backyard. His love of DuPont just continued to grow the more time he spent wandering the hills, enjoying views, sitting by streams and waterfalls. “It was his chapel,” said Ann, “a place he went to nourish his spirit. He lived as a part of the Earth, as one tiny cell, always conscious of his role.”
Chuck’s connection to the Earth and love of the outdoors began at an early age. His grandfather taught him to hunt grouse and pheasant in the woods of western New York. As an adult, he loved to hunt deer. Even when not hunting, we would always be looking for animal signs, signs of bears or deer, seeing with a tracker’s eye. “He was a backwoods guy. He loved going off trail, meandering,” Ann recalled. “He would find a big rock with a vista in order to get a new perspective on the land.”
“The joy of life is new experiences and being one with nature! As I travel into the wilderness, I travel into myself.”Chuck Hackford
With HRI, Chuck helped treat hemlocks in several parts of DuPont, including Sandy Trail, Grassy Creek Trail, Twixt Trail, the Wintergreen Falls area, and along Cascade Lake Road. Whether it was a large, sick hemlock or a young seedling, Chuck, wanted to help save them all. Today those old, grand trees are starting to recover, and those seedlings are several feet taller on their way to becoming the next generation of giants. Ann remembers that he would go visit the trees he helped treat from time to time, checking on their progress. Over the years, Chuck and Ann also treated around 50 hemlocks on their own property.
While volunteer days with HRI have always been very fulfilling for Ann, by the end of the day she would be exhausted from scrambling up and down hillsides or crawling through the brush. “But for Chuck, it was invigorating,” she said. “He always wanted to explore the hard to reach areas, find the hardest trails.”
His love of the Earth is what motivated Chuck to give back. Besides volunteering with HRI and caring for his own hemlocks, he gave his time as a member of the Friends of DuPont Forest trail crew and litter pickup volunteers. From 2019 to 2021, Chuck and Ann took over as the organizers of the litter pickup and renamed it Trash Bash. “He was happiest outside, giving back as much as he received from Mother Nature,” Ann said, “and he loved being able to actively participate in caring for the trees and keeping the forest clean.”
Ann recalls many early morning hikes with Chuck, always on weekdays to avoid the crowds. “Walking in the fresh snow, with only our tracks or maybe turkey tracks, it’s such a blessing,” said Ann. She still pictures Chuck walking in front of her when she’s out in the woods. As for those four big hemlocks by the driveway, to Ann they are now a lovely physical reminder of Chuck and all he cared about.
(I desire) “to understand and be a part of the simple beauty of nature. There is no good or bad here, just natural law. No judgments. We come as we are, do our best, take joy in simply being a part of the web of life. Caring about all things around us, equal in the struggles to survive and understanding we are all, every living thing, together. If you must find yourself, look to the natural world.”Chuck Hackford
Conservation Connection Corner:
Matt Baker of Biltmore Forest
Matt Baker is a concerned citizen with a passion for protecting the hemlock trees of Biltmore Forest, a town known for its natural beauty and conservation efforts. With a degree in biology and a career in research and development, he approaches hemlock treatment like a scientist, constantly seeking to refine his hemlock treatment systems for better results and higher efficiency.
Baker first contacted HRI in the summer of 2020, looking for help in treating his own hemlocks and raising awareness among Biltmore Forest residents about the threat facing these trees. Since then, he has treated upwards of 500 trees throughout Biltmore Forest.
“My dream is to eventually drive down my road in Biltmore Forest, and it is entirely lined with hemlocks— as if you’re under the canopy,” said Matt. “It’s probably going to take 20 more years to get there, but someday someone will drive through and just say, ‘wow.’”
Matt first learned about the plight of the hemlocks as a teenager in the ‘90s. While hiking with his older brother, Matt remembers seeing the devastating effects of the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation firsthand.
Later, in college, Matt did his senior research project at Santeetlah Lake in Graham County, NC. He recalls being astounded by the sheer density of the adelgid, comparing the appearance to freshly fallen snow. This was toward the beginning of North Carolina’s HWA infestation, and the Santeetlah hemlocks, with their thick, healthy foliage, provided an immense amount of food for the invasive insect.
Five years ago, Matt moved to Biltmore Forest, and the 30 hemlocks on his property could not have asked for a better champion. Despite the busyness of a successful career and a family, Matt started researching best management practices for treating HWA and ultimately contacted HRI. Using the information on the website and advice from HRI staff, Matt started treating his trees.
“Someone had treated the hemlocks on my property probably 10 years ago, but I could see the adelgid coming back,” said Matt. “I started treating my own, and then as I got out into the neighborhood, I found just these stands of huge hemlocks. Some of them had probably never been treated before.”
Recognizing that these hemlocks needed immediate action, Matt began treating the trees on the town commons and on neighboring properties, volunteering his time and resources. He also became more involved with HRI, volunteering in November 2020 at the Carolina Hemlocks Campground and again in May 2021 at the NC Arboretum.
When asked what motivates him to keep saving the hemlocks, Matt cited both the immediate beauty of hemlocks and their promise of generational continuity.
A 200-year-old hemlock next door seems to have particularly captivated his imagination. “That tree was here before the Vanderbilts,” said Matt. “It was here when Asheville was just five roads downtown. Out here in the woods, just standing here all by itself.”
Having already treated 500 trees in the town, Matt plans to continue his work. He has great ideas about treatment methods, buffer zones, maps, and marking systems, and he wishes he had more time in the day to make it all happen.
Today it is impossible to drive through Biltmore Forest without seeing evidence of Matt’s treatment or advocacy work. The residential trees are as large as those on well-protected forest land, their healthy foliage creating a peaceful suffuse light. And one day, generations from now, they will still be standing there, all thanks to the determination of Matt Baker.
If you know someone who has gone above and beyond to protect the hemlocks in their community, please contact us at email@example.com or call us at 828-252-8743, and we might feature them in a future newsletter.