In spite of the pandemic, HRI has been able to accomplish a lot this fall and winter. After a quiet spring and summer, it has been great to reconnect and re-engage with the larger HRI community. Whether it has been collecting cones, treating trees on the Green River, learning how to protect hemlocks, or offering support, we appreciate the contributions of all our partners, volunteers, program participants, and donors. Five years into our treatment program, it is also encouraging to see signs that the work is having an effect. When we revisit sites, we see a marked difference in the health of treated stands and definite signs of improvement. The work of protecting hemlocks continues beyond state and federal lands through the efforts of communities across the region. The continuity of our talented and experienced staff has been a huge asset in this difficult time. All of our accomplishments in recent months have only been possible because of our great team and the continued support of our partners. Please enjoy reading these updates about our recent work.

Table of Contents

Start of Sustaining Hemlocks–Phase II: Plans for 2021
NCFS U&CF Grant Supports Workshops and New Resources
Receipt of NC SFI-SIC Grant for 2021
A Community Coming Together to Save Trees That Are the Legacy of Our Mountains
Cone Collections for the NC Forest Service
Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Dillard
2020 By the Numbers
2020-2021 HRI Staff

Start of Sustaining Hemlocks–Phase II: Plans for 2021

Revisiting an HCA in Pisgah Game Land (WRC).

We are very excited to begin our transition from Sustaining Hemlocks–Phase I to Sustaining Hemlocks–Phase II. Our initial Phase I plan was to treat as many of the remaining hemlocks as possible to safeguard the hemlock’s imperiled genetic diversity. With this as our main priority, the number of hemlock trees on state lands chemically protected from HWA has increased exponentially over the past three years. The other aspect of Phase I was to establish hemlock conservation areas (HCAs) across the trees’ native range. The HCAs mark remaining viable hemlock stands on public and private lands suitable for chemical and biological control.

The main difference between the phases will be to shift our focus from the initial chemical treatment of HCAs to the creation and implementation of long-term plans. This will protect our previous investments in those hemlock stands. Chemical treatment benefits are temporary and only provide four to seven years of post-treatment protection. Longer-term plans and strategies must be initiated to sustain success and maintain tree health beyond the initial treatment’s effective life.

Measuring hemlocks at an impact plot.

To accomplish this goal, we must integrate several new strategies. The first is to install impact plots in each HCA. Impact plots establish locations for on-going, long-term monitoring. The impact plots will allow us to document successes and determine future management prescriptions. The next will be to stop short of re-treating every hemlock and strategically treat certain trees while integrating available biological controls. We will also begin identifying potential opportunities for future stand improvement and restoration activities such as target-tree release and plantings.

Laricobius larvae feeding on HWA eggs.

Biological control strategies will be based on the hemlock woolly adelgid integrated pest management guide for resource managers, published in January of 2020 by the USDA Forest Service Forest Health Assessment and Applied Sciences Team. Using the IPM guide, we will be assigning management classes to trees within an HCA to determine whether they will remain chemically treated or be transitioned to serve as nursing grounds for predatory beetles. Continued monitoring for predators at former release and non-release sites will help track their dispersal. With the integration of long-term impact plots and strategic chemical treatment alongside biocontrol release, we will take another step towards the long-term protection and continued survival of North Carolina’s native hemlock populations.

We are grateful to Rusty Rhea, USFS-FHP, and Rob Trickel, NCFS-Forest Health Branch, for their roles in securing federal funding through not just one but two Landscape Scale Restoration grants that are making this work possible, along with state support from the General Assembly, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the NC Policy Collaboratory.

NCFS Urban and Community Forestry Grant Supports Engaging Workshops and New Resources

Workshop participant treating a hemlock.

In addition to the major Landscape Scale Restoration grant we received through the NC Forest Service to begin implementing Phase II of hemlock management across the state, HRI was fortunate to receive a few other grants focused on improving North Carolina forests. The first of which was an NCFS Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) grant we received in 2019, and just wrapped up at the end of 2020, to put on training workshops and develop new educational resources. Despite interruptions caused by COVID-19, we managed to run eight workshops on hemlock woolly adelgid management. The workshops benefited hemlock trees directly and indirectly through treatment and community building based on a raised awareness of the threats to hemlocks. In the course of the workshops and through the action of participants afterward, more than 1,525 hemlocks were treated with systemic insecticides, protecting these trees for at least another five years. In addition to the many ecological and cultural benefits of hemlocks, we estimate that treating these trees will store 503 tons of carbon dioxide at the time of treatment and sequester another 14.3 tons of carbon dioxide each year due to their continued survival.

French Broad Crossing residents ready to treat hemlocks.

The workshops also presented opportunities to build relationships with multiple communities and HOA groups. These relationships are branching into additional projects whereby communities are coming together to actively manage their hemlocks using the information and methodology acquired during the workshops. For example, in October of 2020, two residents from the French Broad Crossing HOA in Madison County attended a workshop at the North Carolina Arboretum. They subsequently used their new knowledge to create a treatment plan and drum up interest and funding from their neighbors to protect the hemlocks located on community green space, held in conservation by the Southeast Regional Land Conservancy. Less than two months later, ten neighbors and seven HRI and SERLC staff convened to put the plan into action (See “A Community Coming Together” below for more about this partnership.)

Installed HCA sign–photo by Jessica Withers.

One of the most exciting projects completed this year with the support of the U&CF grant was the training video, “A Step-by-step Guide to Soil-based Chemical Treatments for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.” In the video, you will learn about some of the many products available to treat hemlocks, and a couple of simple ways to treat your hemlocks to keep them healthy for years to come. You can watch the video here.

Another outcome of this project was creating Spanish language translations of three HRI documents about hemlocks. These resources, available to download on our Resources page, will allow information about integrated hemlock treatment strategies and urban hemlocks’ benefits to reach an even larger audience. We are incredibly grateful for the support that has allowed us to continue reaching out to new groups and create innovative ways to teach the public about hemlocks. We cannot wait for what 2021 has in store.

The U&CF grant also supported the creation of hemlock conservation area (HCA) signs.  These 11″ x 18″ aluminum signs were made available to all workshop participants, and can also be purchased at cost by any landowner who treats their hemlocks and fills out this survey.

HRI Receives NC SFI-SIC Grant for 2021

We are also incredibly grateful to be a recipient of a North Carolina Sustainable Forestry Initiative-State Implementation Committee grant (NC SFI-SIC). The SFI is an independent non-profit whose mission is to “advance sustainability through forest-focused collaborations.” They award grants to organizations that promote sustainable forestry management through example and promote SFI’s principles. We will use the grant to support our hemlock workshops in 2021. Our workshops empower landowners to protect the hemlocks on their property in a sustainable manner, educate participants on how to become stewards of the hemlock, and spread the word on protecting these vital species.

We look forward to our partnership with NC SFI-SIC and the continuation of our workshop series. We currently have one workshop planned for March 25-27 at McDowell Technical Community College in Marion. Check our Events page for additional workshops as they are scheduled.

A Community Coming Together To Save Trees That Are the Legacy of Our Mountains

Written and shared by Karin Heiman, Deputy Director, Southeast Regional Land Conservancy

French Broad Crossing residents and HRI staff–photo by Karin Heiman.

I want to share with you one of my dreams that is coming true–saving trees!  It is a win-win-win of a community coming together, saving trees for the future of our mountains, and a message that other communities may get inspired by.

On a freezing cold December day, I was with Jim Palmer and a large group of volunteers dedicated to saving hemlock trees. It was so crazy to see a community come together so strongly and volunteer in such cold snowy weather! To see hope and good being done in this current time is wonderful. I work for Southeast Regional Land Conservancy protecting land. For years, one of my dreams has been to save hemlock trees–This important legacy of our mountains has been losing the battle against the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid disease. It has wiped out the majority of hemlock trees that once covered our mountain coves. Birds, wildlife, and streams suffer as a result. Hemlocks have been so greatly lost already in the last number of years, even in Joyce Kilmer and so many other iconic places. We are trying to build ‘islands of hope’ to hold open the jaws of extinction while a ‘cure’ is being sought. On the two volunteer days, the lives of 279 hemlock trees were saved to live on in forests that are permanently protected.

It first started last spring. While monitoring the conservation easement land that joins the French Broad Crossing residential community in rural Madison County, I brought the idea up to residents Jim Palmer and Tim Hale as we walked the cool, shaded slopes dotted with hemlock trees that were beginning to suffer from the adelgid disease. They liked the idea and Jim ran with it. He was an unstoppable and charismatic force as he cataloged trees, inspired a large group of volunteers, and coordinated volunteer events. It never would have happened without his enthusiasm. They were going to start slowly and I told them within a 2-year window it would be too late–the time for action is now! We connected with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative to strengthen the efforts. We learned so much from HRI and they even provided cost-share and on-the-ground staff. Jim organized two big field days, with a large group of volunteers and HRI staff, including two AmeriCorps members. I couldn’t believe all these people came out in the icy cold to crawl around on steep slopes in the snow to save the trees! What I also didn’t expect was how good it felt to look at these trees afterward, knowing that we saved them. We had done something concrete and good for the future. And something other communities around WNC could do! See the original story with more photos here.

Fall 2020 Cone Collections for the NCFS

Hemlock seedlings at the Linville River Nursery.

You may know that in the last couple years the NC Forest Service has been growing hemlocks from seed in great numbers in order to establish protocols for future production of hemlock strains that can be used for large scale forest restoration. This requires that they collect thousands of cones each year. Unfortunately, 2020 was a light cone year for eastern and Carolina hemlocks in western North Carolina, so NCFS staff asked HRI to put out the call for hemlock cones.

Volunteers collecting hemlock cones in Montreat.

We received an outpouring of enthusiastic responses from private landowners and partners across the region and even a few from outside North Carolina–clear evidence that folks truly want to help the hemlocks! Over 90 people responded to our call to action, at least 34 of whom collected and contributed hundreds of thousands of hemlock cones to the NCFS Linville River Nursery outside Crossnore, NC from sites spanning the entire western half of the state. In total, the NCFS acquired 400 pounds of eastern cones and 10 pounds of Carolina cones, resulting in a surplus of seed that will be stored to alleviate the burden of collecting in future years. Being able to harvest a large number of cones is important because each cone may only yield a few viable seeds. In the difficult times of the pandemic when volunteer and educational events were put on hold, this was a great opportunity to reconnect with our friends and supporters.

Ripe hemlock cones.

We appreciate the “collective” response from all the hemlock lovers who answered the call to action and applaud the hard work of the NCFS staff who are working on this project. Jim Slye, NCFS Nursery and Tree Improvement Program Head, asked us to extend a personal thank you to everyone who helped out. If you are interested in purchasing some of the eastern or Carolina hemlock seedlings that this collection effort contributed to, the NCFS will be selling them in batches this summer. See the NCFS online tree seedling store for more information. Check the store later this spring to find out when they go on sale and watch for another “cone call” from us come early fall.

Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Dillard

Susan planting trees at a research site with the USFS-SRS and NCSU

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.

Susan Dillard is a retired defense attorney from Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston, Susan and her husband Josiah spent time camping and kayaking throughout the New England mountains. Following retirement, Susan and Josiah moved to the coast of North Carolina, where they lived for only a year and a half before moving to western North Carolina.

Susan (right) treating trees with Barbara and Logan.

Once in western North Carolina, Susan immediately began seeking ways to learn about the forests she now called home. Her search led her in the fall of 2019 to an Asheville Greenworks hike at the NC Arboretum hosted by the Hemlock Restoration Initiative. While on the hike, Susan was impressed by the diversity of volunteers and participants. The common denominator was a shared love of the forest and a passion for protecting it. As she learned about the hemlock tree and the hemlock woolly adelgid’s impact, she saw that volunteering with HRI could help her make a tangible change for the better in her new home.

Since then, Susan has logged over 65 volunteer hours helping hemlocks and has been a fantastic addition to the HRI family. Susan loves the variety of volunteer opportunities, from planting hemlock seedlings and treating mature trees to working in nurseries and supporting our educational workshops. Volunteering with HRI also gets her into parts of the forest she may never have visited.

Susan (left) monitoring for HWA predators.

Learning about trails and destinations off the beaten path–in places like Sandy Mush Game Land or Bent Creek Experimental Forest–drives Susan to continue getting out and enjoying nature. “The beauty of the places we visit [volunteering] makes me want to be out there more. Just reading about it online wouldn’t have the same effect.”

At the end of the day, Susan enjoys being able to say, “I saved this many trees today,” and knowing that her work will provide ecosystem benefits for years to come. All of us here at HRI are so thankful for all the amazing work Susan has done!

2020-2021 HRI Staff

This year’s staff have been through a year like no other, and we are so thankful for all the hard work and perseverance of everyone who is a part of the HRI family. We welcomed back many familiar faces, with Ben Chase returning for a second term as our AmeriCorps stewardship and volunteer engagement associate, Thom Green continuing as our outreach associate, and our leader, Margot Wallston, holding down the fort as always. We are also delighted to have Aaron Whiting and Alexis de Seze returning as forestry technicians for another season in the field. Our one new face is Logan Dye, who has joined the team as a second AmeriCorps member serving as the stewardship and conservation education associate.

HRI staff practice safe social distancing between two giant, old-growth Carolina hemlocks.
(From left to right: Logan, Aaron, Ben, and Thom; not pictured: Alexis and Margot)

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