Winter 2024 Newsletter

From The Director


Dear friends of HRI,

HRI has been bustling with field work and educational outreach events this past fall. We have six wonderful forestry technicians and two new AmeriCorps members serving with HRI. (You can learn more about each of them at our new Staff page on our website.)

Together, the team has scouted and treated almost 6,600 hemlocks at many sites across Western North Carolina and worked alongside rangers at Chimney Rock State Park and DuPont State Forest, stewardship staff from Conserving Carolina and the Foothills Conservancy, and student volunteers from Haywood Community College and the Schenck Job Corps, among others.

While under normal circumstances the drought we experienced this fall would cause us to halt our treatment plans, we were able to avoid this pause in our work by focusing on hemlock stands where it made sense to use CoreTect tablets instead of our typical liquid-based solutions. We often elect to use this slow-release tablet formulation in stands that are hard to access and have little-to-no surface water available for mixing, such as on the rocky outcrops and ridgetops where Carolina hemlocks typically grow. The tablets sit under the surface of the soil until appropriate moisture levels return and they begin to dissolve. Therefore, we turned our attention to several never-before-treated Carolina hemlock stands, including portions of the ridge above Shope Creek, Fall Branch above Ridgecrest, and John Rock (all three in Pisgah National Forest) along with Three Top Mountain in Ashe County and the flanks of the famous Cold Mountain in Haywood County. 

Cold Mountain, which is a part of the Great Balsam Mountains, may very well contain the largest contiguous and densest stands of Carolina hemlocks in the world, so it was particularly exciting, albeit not easy, to protect some of the trees in one of those stands. In total, over 5 days of extremely strenuous effort on the part of our forestry crew, we treated 1,266 Carolina hemlocks on Cold Mountain, which surprisingly was less than 50% of the total number of trees in the stand. And these trees were not small; the average diameter was 10.7” at breast height, but some of them exceeded 30 inches! You can click here to learn more about why Carolina hemlocks are so important and worth all the effort that we’re exerting to conserve them. 

In addition to all the chemical treatment this past fall, we searched for HWA-predator beetles, monitored treatment impact plots, participated in forest festival days, presented at professional conferences, served as guest instructors for various college classes, and led hikers on hemlock-focused educational hikes. Our most recent monthly educational hemlock hikes took place at the NC Arboretum, Holmes Educational State Forest, and the Cradle of Forestry where we shared our knowledge with fellow hemlock lovers. 

We also continued to lend extra hands to our research partners who are exploring various aspects of HWA management, including studies led by the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, NCSU, Camcore, the NCDA&CS Beneficial Insects Lab, the Forest Restoration Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, UNCA, and the University of Connecticut. These projects range from collecting branch clippings that will be used to map out the eastern hemlock genome, to developing protocols to identify native hemlocks that may have some heritable resistance to HWA, to examining the diversity of soil organisms in chemically treated versus untreated stands, to measuring planted hemlocks that will inform how silvicultural practices may benefit hemlocks in the understory. HRI is always grateful for this engaged community of partners whose work broadens our knowledge and understanding of hemlock management.

Below you will find our “2023 By the Numbers” report which highlights the impressive statistics of our work over the entire year. As I always strive to emphasize, we cannot do what we do without the cooperation and collaboration of our state, federal, NGO, and private partners, and the generous contributions of our volunteers and donors who continue to show us their support in a myriad of ways, including on GivingTuesday and beyond.

As we look forward to 2024, we’re excited for another year of helping to conserve and restore the hemlocks. Please read the stories below to get a deeper understanding of what we and our partners are doing out there. If you make it to the end of this newsletter, you’ll find a list of our upcoming volunteer days and outings where you, too, can join us…or you can go ahead and click on this link which will take you directly to our events page

Thank you for your continued support of our mission to maintain the health of our state’s hemlocks.

Sincerely,
Margot Wallston
Director



New Pages on the Website

We are excited to announce two new additions to our website.

Click the images to check out these new pages.

Carolina Hemlock:
The Southern Appalachian Jewel

Meet the HRI Team


Hemlock Conservation Area Highlight

by Brian Heath, N.C. Forest Service, Forest Health Branch

Broyhill State Forest. Photo credit: Caldwelledc.org

This winter’s featured Hemlock Conservation Area (HCA) showcases the Broyhill State Forest. The Broyhill family is well known for being the founders of Broyhill Furniture. Now, the family is also becoming known for their past and continuing practice of sound forestry and multiple resource management on their woodland property. With the current threat of the hemlock woolly adelgid, hemlock conservation has become a more prevalent management priority for the family.  

The truest purpose of a legacy is to pass on a gift that will be beneficial to an entire community, and the Broyhill family wishes to enhance their legacy by establishing Broyhill State Forest. The Broyhill Family Foundation has been working with The Conservation Fund (TCF), an environmental nonprofit organization, to establish a 402-acre property that can be managed in a sustainable way while also providing numerous benefits to the public.  

Broyhill State Forest (in blue) in Caldwell County. Photo credit: Appalachian Chronicle

This property, located in the northern portion of Caldwell County, has been managed by the Broyhill family for over a century. The objectives of the Broyhill family are a perfect match with the N.C. Forest Service. This is a big reason why TCF is assisting with the transfer of the property to the management of N.C. Forest Service.  

The N.C. Forest Service will continue to manage the former Broyhill tracts as a working forest. This will be a good opportunity to grow timber in a setting that is visible to the public. Visitors will be able to see active timber management practices conducted in a manner that protects other natural resources. Once the tract has fully transitioned to the N.C. Forest Service, it will also become a part of the N.C. Game Lands Program through the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Other objectives for managing the tract will include maintaining water quality, providing recreational opportunities like hiking, and of course protecting the numerous hemlocks throughout the riparian areas.

Hemlocks at Broyhill State Forest. Photo credit: Brian Heath

While the former Broyhill property has not officially transitioned to the N.C. Forest Service, the division has already chemically treated hemlocks to help protect them against the hemlock woolly adelgid. It was important to be as proactive as possible to stop the decline of these impressive trees. There are several mature trees throughout the forest and fortunately minimal mortality has occurred. It’s somewhat unique to see live hemlocks still as one of the predominant tree species along streams. This is why conserving these trees became a top priority for everyone involved with this property.

Hemlock treatments began during the fall of 2022 and were completed in the spring of 2023. During that time nearly 3,000 trees were chemically treated, even where the terrain was steep and rugged. The treatments will provide at least five years of protection against the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Critical to the treatment operations were members of the N.C. Forest Service BRIDGE program. Bill Holman, state director at The Conservation Fund stated, “The Conservation Fund greatly appreciates the N.C. Forest Service treating the hemlocks at Broyhill State Forest. It’s wonderful to see healthy hemlock trees in the forest.”  

Additional site work will need to occur before Broyhill State Forest becomes open to the public. A non-functioning concrete dam will need to be removed for safety reasons. Conservation of the hemlock resource is critical to maintaining the objectives of the forest. In addition, the public will be beneficiaries of other land management objectives including timber production, maintaining water quality resources, wildlife management and hunting and public recreational opportunities. The beauty of a legacy like this is that it provides joy to those who are passing it on as well as providing enjoyment for those who benefit from it.


2023 Photo Gallery

Click through to see some of our favorite moments from the past year.

  • HRI AmeriCorps member Ally Melrose teaches hikers during a well-deserved rest at our hemlock hike to Brushy Mountain above Montreat in January

Interview with Greg Wiggins of the

Beneficial Insects Lab

Greg Wiggins became the Biological Control Administrator for the Beneficial Insects Lab in Cary, North Carolina in 2021. The Beneficial Insects Lab is part of the Biological Control Services of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). Biological Control Services implements and maintains biological control programs to benefit the residents and the environment of the state of NC. Before joining the Beneficial Insects Lab, Wiggins worked with biological controls at the University of Tennessee for over 20 years. While at UT, he conducted research on hemlock woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer, walnut twig beetle, and other invasive pests. HRI Outreach Manager, Caroline Lord, interviewed Wiggins in December 2023. The following is Part One of a two-part interview with Greg Wiggins. Look for Part Two in our Summer 2024 Newsletter.

Are there certain protocols you have to follow when you enter the Beneficial Insects Lab?

Greg Wiggins inspecting a hemlock in the field. Photo credit: HRI

We have two types of labs at the Beneficial Insects Lab; regular lab space for day-to-day activities and a quarantine facility for regulated or restricted species. Our quarantine facility is a separate lab space from our regular lab space. To go in and out of that lab space, when there are restricted species present, there are certain procedures that you have to follow. You have to sign in and out and inspect your clothing before you leave since our work is with arthropods. We can’t take trash out. Anything that leaves has to be autoclaved first before it can leave the bounds of the quarantine. It’s restrictive on how you get in and out for safety reasons because we don’t want to accidentally introduce things that we are testing but aren’t allowed yet for release.

Which beetles do you study at the lab?

This lab historically has worked a lot with hemlock woolly adelgid biological control. From the early 2000’s to around 2015, the lab reared Sasajiscymnus tsugae beetles for release in North Carolina as well as for distribution to other cooperating states throughout the southeast.

We shifted our focus from Sasajiscymnus tsugae biological control efforts to working with Laricobius and other predators within the past ten years.

Why did the lab stop studying Sasajiscymnus tsugae beetles?

Hemlock samples at the Beneficial Insects Lab. Photo credit: HRI

It takes longer to establish, and its biology isn’t as synchronous with hemlock woolly adelgid as Laricobius’ biology. Laricobius is a higher impact predator, because it feeds on the eggs of the main generation of hemlock woolly adelgid. Sasajiscymnus tsugae feeds on the summer generation of hemlock woolly adelgid. It doesn’t have the level of impact that Laricobius does. Right now, we’ve got several projects and studies going focusing on Laricobius osakensis as well as a study working with the silver fly also known as Leucotaraxis. There are actually a couple of species in the Leucotaraxis genus that we’re working with.

Hemlocks at the Beneficial Insects Lab in Raleigh. Photo credit: HRI

Can you tell me about one of the studies the lab is currently working on?

We’re conducting studies on how effective egg releases of the Laricobius osakensis could be for establishing this beetle in new areas or supplementing populations that are already present in the area.  HRI helped connect us with our two study sites in McDowell and Cherokee counties. We’ve completed one round of this study at a site in McDowell County with promising results there. We’ve gotten really good emergence from our beetles this year. We’re repeating the study at a site in Cherokee County. That study is still ongoing this fall because Laricobius osakensis is still emerging. We’re waiting to see if we’ll get similar results to the McDowell County site.

What will you do with the beetles once they emerge?

We’re looking forward to maintaining our colony and using those beetles as the colony grows for distribution for HRI and the Forest Service and ourselves to conduct more predator releases in the mountains.

How do you set up the lab to study the Laricobius beetles?

We have to emulate the conditions they would have in the field here in the lab. So we bring in hemlock branches that are infested with hemlock woolly adelgid and let the beetles feed on the adelgid. We have to have temperature and light conditions similar to what they would be experiencing in the field. We have a walk-in cooler and growth chambers set to around 40 to 45 degrees. When the hemlock woolly adelgid begins producing eggs, the Laricobius begin laying their eggs so that their larvae can hatch and feed on the adelgid eggs. As the Laricobius larvae mature, we hold them in these little containers, and once the larvae have matured, they drop to the floor of those containers. We collect those larvae and put them in soil the way they would have dropped to the ground in the field. We hold the soil containers which contain those pupating and aestivating larvae in growth chambers set at conditions that other labs have determined are appropriate, so between 68 to 72 degrees which keeps the soil moist throughout the summer. Then in the fall, those pupating and aestivating beetles begin to emerge as adults and we put them back on the hemlocks.

Once the Laricobius are released back into the forests, what is their yearly cycle?

Charles Dial checking a Laricobius emergence trap as part of the egg release study. Photo credit: Beneficial Insects Lab

They drop off of the tree, burrow into the soil and pupate and then they aestivate. So even after they‘ve completed their development, they hang out and don’t do much of anything over the summer in the soil because the adelgid is not active. The hemlocks are also not as actively transpiring in the summer. So the Laricobius are not present on the tree when their prey are not active on the tree. That’s part of their close synchrony with their host; they rest while their prey is resting. When the prey becomes more active in the fall, that’s when the Laricobius emerge from the soil and go back into the trees and begin feeding again.

Do you and other researchers at the lab collaborate with other groups in North Carolina?

We’ve coordinated with HRI as well as the US Forest Service and the North Carolina Forest Service. HRI has been very helpful in helping us identify field sites. Margot’s team has supplied us with infested hemlock foliage for our beetles. They have helped us field collect beetles to help with our studies and to help start our colonies. It’s a big team effort.  We’re involved with and cooperating with others to help manage and reduce the harmful impacts of hemlock woolly adelgid. I appreciate all the different agencies cooperating together to accomplish a common goal.


Volunteer Spotlight: Tom & Jean Flick

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 our volunteers. In this issue we would like to recognize Jean and Tom Flick.

For most of their lives, Tom and Jean Flick lived in Texas where they worked and raised their family. Jean was a director of a nursing program and taught nursing as well. Tom worked as a podiatrist and United Methodist minister. 

Tom and Jean treat a hemlock at the Piney Knob Bike Trails near Murphy.

After being retired for some time, Jean and Tom decided it was time to leave the Texan heat. Jean said that they were ready to “live somewhere where there were more trees and more mountains and more hikes that we could take since that’s what we like to do.” As a child, Tom grew up on a farm in Ohio, and he noted that although most of Ohio was one great field, the state had left trees along the creeks and that was his favorite place to be—by the creek and in the trees. “I loved the trees,” he said.

Three and a half years ago, the Flicks left Texas and headed to Western North Carolina where they settled on four forested acres seven miles west of Franklin. As they became more familiar with their new property, the Flicks thought they had about six hemlock trees. While inspecting one tree, they noticed some white spots on the branches. They did some research and realized that the trees were infested with hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). This discovery inspired them to attend a hemlock chemical treatment volunteer day put on by Mainspring Conservation Trust in partnership with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative (HRI).

At the joint Mainspring/HRI event, the Flicks learned how to treat their hemlock trees and they’ve been treating them on their property ever since. As time went on, they realized they had more hemlocks than they’d thought. Tom said, “I can’t even count the number of hemlock trees we have on our little four acres. I wasn’t looking that closely I guess because you can’t walk ten feet without finding another one.”

Staff member Thom Green with the Flicks in 2021

The Flicks continuted volunteering with HRI at other event locations that were “on our side of the forest,” Jean said. They helped HRI chemically treat hemlock trees multiple times at the Piney Knob Bike Trails near Murphy and in the Nantahala National Forest. “It was surprising to me how many trees we treated at the HRI events we went to because it’s pretty steep terrain and somewhat challenging to get around,” Jean said. “One of the fun things for me, particularly with HRI, beyond the knowledge that we’re benefiting the trees and the forests is meeting the young people…who want to be involved in care of the environment. That’s very inspiring to me.” Jean said. Tom added how much he likes spending time with HRI staff and other volunteers while out treating hemlocks. “Sometimes it’s one staff person and two volunteers. Sometimes [it’s just you and] one staff person. The whole time you’re out there, you’re talking and you get to know people and it’s absolutely amazing.” 

Tom and Jean have also helped out at an HRI volunteer work-day at the Forest Restoration Alliance (FRA) in Waynesville where researchers are working on the selective breeding of HWA resistant hemlocks. Jean said that “any kind of volunteer work that is going to benefit the environment is something positive for the future of our world, and that’s of concern to us, that not just that the environment be protected today but be protected for the future.” 

During their day at FRA, Jean thought “it was interesting to be involved in the research and learn what they are doing from the aspect of new ways they’re trying to improve the forest.” A highlight for Tom was seeing the hemlock woolly adelgid up close on a screen in the lab. “I don’t think you can really appreciate the hemlock woolly adelgid until you’ve seen the fellow under a microscope.” Tom described watching FRA researcher Ben Smith uncover an insect from its protective woolly covering and pull the insect’s long thin feeding stylet out of the hemlock branch. Tom said, “To see him actually do that. That was mind blowing.”

Jean (right) and HRI AmeriCorps member Ally Melrose (left) at a volunteer day with the Forest Restoration Alliance.

The Flicks have devoted much of their lives to being of service to others. “I spent my life, of course Jean did too, helping people. I was either helping them with their spirituality or helping them with the ability to walk,” Tom said. At this stage in life, he chose to expand that giving spirit to helping the natural world. “I gave my life to people and it was time to give my life to the other things that God loves. I don’t think there is anything you can do to help a tree that is insignificant,” Tom said.

Jean added that “it’s very easy to get discouraged and feel like things are kind of hopeless in terms of the environment. But any time you can do a small bit, you feel encouraged, and that’s a hopeful thing.” Tom and Jean said they look forward to continuing to be of service to people and conservation groups in the area. 


Take a look at our upcoming events

Friday, February 9th: Volunteer Treatment Day with HRI and G5 at Old Fort Picnic Area

Saturday, February 10th: Volunteer Treatment Day with HRI and the Foothills Conservancy at Possum Rock River Access

Saturday, February 17th: Hemlock hike at Cat Gap Loop/John Rock Trail

Sunday, March 17th: Wildflowers and hemlocks hike with MountainTrue in the Green River Game Land

Monday, March 18th: Volunteer Workday at the Forest Restoration Alliance

Saturday, April 13th: Hemlock hike at Holmes Educational State Forest

Learn more about these events on our Events Page.


Back to Top