While 2020 proved to be one of the most challenging years we have faced, it was also a year of opportunities and accomplishments for the N.C. Forest Service. COVID-19 brought much of the world and much of our lives to what seemed to be a hard stop, but it did not stop the men and women of the N.C. Forest Service from delivering programs and services that ensure our forest resources and forest products industry remain strong in North Carolina for generations to come. Much work was done in 2020 to prepare our forestry community for the challenges we’ll face in 2021 and beyond.
Forests are challenged by a variety of threats, both native and nonnative. The recent January 2021 Forest Health Note provides a snapshot of not only the challenges our forests face but also of the state of forestry in North Carolina. In the past 10 years, three nonnative invasive species were detected for the first time in the state: laurel wilt in 2011; thousand cankers disease of walnuts in 2012; and, emerald ash borer in 2013. Pests, such as hemlock woolly adelgid and gypsy moth, have impacted forests in the state for more than 20 years. Others, such as spotted lanternfly and Asian longhorned beetle, have been found in adjacent states and are being monitored closely in North Carolina.
In 2020, laurel wilt was detected in Wayne County, bringing the total to 12 positive counties in the southeastern part of the state.
Thousand cankers disease remains only in Haywood County. In 2020, 40 traps were set in high priority areas statewide and the walnut twig beetle was not detected in any additional areas.
The emerald ash borer (EAB) has been found in 61 counties across the state, with six new 2020 detections in Alexander, Clay, Cleveland, Montgomery, Northampton and Union counties. The N.C. Forest Service continues to participate with partnering agencies in a long-term biocontrol effort releasing parasitoid wasps. Over the past year, trapping efforts have been conducted to determine if these wasps are reproducing and contributing to EAB control. Trapping data is currently being evaluated. The N.C. Forest Service is collaborating with partners to study the phenology of EAB in North Carolina. Starting in 2019, this was the second year of this effort to document life stage timing of EAB in the state. The information from the study will be utilized to better time and manage future treatments and biological control efforts.
The hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) was first detected in North Carolina in 1995 and has since spread to all regions where hemlocks naturally occur in the state. At an alarming rate, hemlocks continue to suffer from these infestations. From fall 2019 to spring 2020, 6,078 hemlocks were treated. Winter 2021 treatments are ongoing. In 2020, 41 N.C. Forest Service employees earned the NCDA&CS Excellence in Team Accomplishment Award for working together in 2018 and 2019 to chemically treat hemlocks on state lands in Western North Carolina.
In 2020, 1,037 male gypsy moths were captured in 371 traps, with 16,577 traps set statewide. This was slightly more captures compared with 2019 when 1,019 moths were captured in 507 traps, with 17,615 traps set statewide. Based on trap captures in 2020, four mating disruption treatments totaling 7,664 acres and one Btk treatment totaling 451 acres have been proposed to receive treatments in 2021. Since 1988, Currituck and Dare counties remain the only two in the state with a gypsy moth quarantine in place.
Spotted lanternfly and Asian longhorned beetle are two pests of concern that have not yet been detected in North Carolina but that have been identified in adjacent states. Multiple federal and state agencies are surveying and monitoring for these insect pests to detect and respond to early infestations.
In 2020, only one small spot of southern pine beetle (SPB) activity was reported on private lands in the western part of the state. Last spring, the N.C. Forest Service set 33 SPB prediction traps across the state. These traps, plus additional traps deployed by the USFS, indicated correctly that low SPB activity should be expected across the state.
Ips engraver beetle continued to cause pine mortality statewide. While Ips was seen in many locations, there were 48 reports of severe damage on 53 acres across the state.
In 2020, North Carolina experienced its sixth consecutive year of forest tent caterpillar outbreak. Trees recovered by summer and no mortality was observed.
Pitch canker was documented in short leaf, loblolly and white pine stands, with scattered pitch canker mortality found throughout the state. Although highly visible, overall mortality was only present in very small percentages of most of the infected forested stands.
The recent Year in Review: Success Stories and Accomplishments reports major 2020 accomplishments for the N.C. Forest Service Water Quality and Nonpoint Source programs.
In 2020, data collection for the fourth cycle of the best management practice (BMP) implementation assessments and the soil erosion estimates at stream crossings projects were completed. N.C. Forest Service Water Resources Branch staff visited 216 active or recently completed forestry operation sites across the state and collected data for both projects. Both projects will help inform the forestry community about how and where BMPs are being implemented, and the level of risk to water quality that occurs if BMPs are not implemented or are implemented improperly. Analysis and project reports are expected to be completed in 2021.
During 2020, N.C. Forest Service bridgemats were used on eight logging jobs to protect 10 water crossings and provide access to an estimated 703 acres of timber for harvesting. The N.C. Forest Service provides portable, temporary bridgemats to loggers as a service to demonstrate how well bridgemats can protect water quality on stream or ditch crossings.
In 2020, roughly 3,000 bare-root seedlings were planted along the banks of the Linville River restoration project site located on Gill State Forest. Tree species included green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), wild pear (Pyrus communis), white oak (Quercus alba), and pin oak (Quercus palustris).
During FY19-20, 2,333 active timber harvest operations were found in compliance compared to only 21 found to be in noncompliance. Exactly 841 completed timber harvest operations were found in compliance while only 13 were noncompliant.
WILDFIRE AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE, STATE FORESTS, FOREST MANAGEMENT, AND MORE
For the N.C. Forest Service, public safety and response are standard areas of focus. In 2020, the agency was called to task more than ever. N.C. Forest Service law enforcement staff successfully concluded several serial fire setting cases with convictions including one investigation that lasted more than five years. In August 2020, N.C. Forest Service personnel assisted with tornado response and recovery efforts in Bertie County. As of Oct. 28, 2020, the N.C. Forest Service had filled 193 personnel requests for 50 different incidents across 12 states, and at home, N.C. Forest Service personnel had provided emergency response 4,304 times as of Dec. 8, 2020.
Our state forests and the N.C. Forest Service staff assigned to them were on the front line, serving a public in need of safe places to enjoy the outdoors and to get a breath of fresh air which has been harder to come by during the pandemic. Three of our state forests experienced temporary closures due to overcrowding and unsafe conditions when the pandemic was at its peak. Even still, state forest visitation was above average and, in some cases, record-setting for most of 2020. Staff developed and maintained safety protocols within our state forests, keeping forests open and keeping the public and staff as safe as possible while minimizing resource damage during periods of excessive visitation. In 2020, DuPont State Recreational Forest welcomed nearly 1.2 million visitors during 10 months of operation.
The N.C. Forest Service helps landowners sustainably manage their forestland, keeping our state’s forests productive while providing economic value and adding immeasurably to our quality of life. In 2020, the N.C. Forest Service assisted 7,518 landowners. Our nursery program produced 13,184,940 seedlings and collected 6,840 pounds of seed. Our field personnel wrote and/or approved plans for cost share programs, resulting in $2.1 million in cost share funding toward new forestry projects.
Other notable highlights for our agency in 2020 included a signed Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) with the USFS for Uwharrie National Forest and finalization of the 2020 North Carolina Forest Action Plan. After more than a year of collaborating with a wide and diverse set of stakeholders, our plan was submitted in December. This 10-year plan is a total forest resource assessment for all of North Carolina, and it identifies goals, objectives and strategies to strengthen our forests. In 2021, forestry stakeholders across the state will be encouraged to incorporate applicable components into their organizations’ efforts.
What lies ahead for the N.C. Forest Service in 2021?
Relocation of NCFS Region 1 headquarters
Construction of an Aviation East facility at Duplin Airport
Completion of the Mountain Island Educational State Forest Education Center
Launch of the updated Online Burning Permit Application
With an accomplished 2020 behind us, we have started 2021 with steady footing. We are prepared for what lies ahead, and we remain vigilant in protecting our forests and advancing sustainable forestry in our state.