The Hemlock Restoration Initiative brings hope to hemlock’s future
For years, the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid has slowly but surely eaten away at the native hemlocks gracing our state’s beautiful mountain landscapes. Many of these once stunning and elegant trees are now gray ghosts, killed by an insect not much larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Efforts to protect select hemlocks on state properties are ongoing and have saved many, but when it comes to protecting a keystone species that defines ecosystems in Western N.C., there is always more that can be done.
That is why a statewide program came into existence with the charge of protecting our hemlocks for years to come. The Hemlock Restoration Initiative was created in 2014 by Commissioner Steve Troxler in order to ensure that eastern and Carolina hemlocks can withstand attacks by the hemlock woolly adelgid and survive to maturity on public and private lands in the state. The HRI receives funding and support from the NCDA&CS Commissioner’s Office, USDA Forest Service and the N.C. Forest Service.
The main goal of the HRI is to implement a strategic plan for hemlock restoration in North Carolina. This involves:
- Identifying and establishing hemlock conservation areas;
- Educating landowners on how to economically manage hemlocks on their properties;
- Increasing the number of trees treated on public lands;
- Implementing integrated pest management and long-term biological control of the hemlock woolly adelgid; and
- Advancing the development of other management strategies and restoration techniques, including the search for trees tolerant to the adelgid and understanding optimal hemlock growing conditions.
In its initial months, the HRI has helped treat more than 600 trees on conserved and state-owned lands, assisted with the release of over 6,000 predatory beetles, co-hosted a forum on biological control agents, and informed dozens of individuals on how to treat their own trees.
But the HRI cannot do it without invested North Carolinians.
How can you help?
- Join the HRI’s “Team Tsuga” for a volunteer hemlock treatment workday on one of our state forests, parks or game lands! Not only will you help the trees you treat, but it’s a great way to learn first-hand how to treat your own hemlock trees! (Note: Tsuga is the genus name for hemlocks.)
- Invite the HRI to speak to your community, lead a hike or participate in a local conservation-oriented event. You can contact the HRI here!
- Use native, locally-sourced trees and other plants in your landscaping to avoid introducing other unwanted pests to new areas. All too often, invasives are introduced or spread from place to place by unknowing people!
- Feed your adelgids to beneficial insects being reared at the NCDA&CS Beneficial Insect Lab. Contact Kathleen Kidd at the Beneficial Insect Lab to let them know about your infested trees.
- Inform the Forest Restoration Alliance (formerly known as the Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests) about potentially HWA-resistant “survivor trees” that stand out in a stand of otherwise dead hemlock trees. We need as many eyes as we can looking for these trees!
- Follow the HRI page on Facebook, Save the Hemlocks!
- Visit the HRI website to learn more.
Volunteers assess hemlock health in a stand (top left; image by M. Wallston). Predatory beetle releases (bottom left; image by M. Wallston) and chemical treatments (right; image by I. Holt) are both options for hemlock stand protection.
Recently, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies released a report naming invasive pests as the number one threat to our forests. The HRI aims to reduce the threat of one of the deadliest ever known in this state. With your help, that mission can become more and more realistic!
Article written by Margot Wallston, HRI Coordinator