September 24th 2016- As the first Saturday of fall dawned in Western North Carolina, 27 AmeriCorps Project Conserve service members and 6 dedicated friends and volunteers convened at Holmes Educational State Forest in Henderson County to celebrate National Public Lands Day. To celebrate, these volunteers contributed to the vitality of our public lands by undertaking an ambitious and rewarding day of hemlock treatment. The goal: treat all the remaining healthy trees in the 263-acre forest.
Located next to the much larger DuPont State Recreational Forest, Holmes has only two staff to tend to all the needs of the property. For this reason, AmeriCorps Project Conserve was especially excited to provide reinforcements to Rangers Susan Fay and Amy Kinsella in their work to extend the lives of Holmes’ hemlocks.
Volunteers received detailed training from Margot Wallston, Hemlock Restoration Initiative Coordinator, on identifying which trees were suitable for treatment based on live crown ratio, foliage density, proximity to water and other factors; which treatments were most appropriate for which trees; and best practices for chemical application in the forest.
After participants were trained, they split into teams of three and spread out across the landscape armed with a variety of treatment methods, safety equipment, and data collection tools, including GPS units, Biltmore sticks, and tree tags to accurately record and document their work.
As they labored on an unseasonably warm day to preserve the unique character of our public lands, scrambling over uneven terrain and weaving between tightly packed limbs, volunteers were reminded of the particular value of hemlocks as some of our tallest trees, keystones species in our forests, and providers of delicious, life giving shade.
As the day drew to a close and the team reconvened, a sense of tired satisfaction permeated the crowd. While the group fell just short of their “every tree” goal, a total of 227 mature trees and more than 60 seedlings were treated in just 2.5 hours. Two days later Mother Nature pitched in by providing the rain which allowed chemical treatments to sink in and reach their intended targets- hemlock root systems. The actions of these dedicated volunteers have extended the lives of Holmes’ hemlocks by up to five years, buying valuable time in the pursuit of long term solutions to the devastating problem of hemlock woolly adelgid in North Carolina.
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