Wild South and Linville Volunteers Tackle Babel Tower Trail

This summer Wild South and Linville Area Volunteers, led by partner Kevin Massey, are hard at work doing some heavy maintenance on the Babel Tower trail in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Helped out by an agreement with Wild South under the Grandfather Restoration Project, the crew is able to do some much needed work on one of the most popular trails within the Wilderness area.

Volunteers show off stone cribbing on the Babel Tower trail

Volunteers show off stone cribbing on the Babel Tower trail

Crews will be working hard out in the field this summer adding check dams and repairing drainage on steep sections of the trail, adding stone cribbing on heavily eroding sections, redefining the main trail and decommissioning user-created trails near the tower that are causing erosion into Linville River. This is one great example of partnerships in the Linville area and we are lucky to have an amazing group of partners and community volunteers who can steward the Linville Gorge Wilderness! Keep track of the progress on the Linville Gorge Maps blog at www.linvillegorgemaps.org.

Kevin’s great work in the Gorge was also recently highlighted in the Asheville Citizen Times article “Watching out over wild, picturesque Linville Gorge“.

Fire Learning Trail Launches

Visiting Linville Gorge on the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest it is hard not to notice the signs of fire. From the iconic wind-whipped table mountain pines gripping the cliffs at the edge of the gorge, to the characteristic clear views, fire has shaped Linville from the beginning.

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Partnering with The Nature Conservancy, The Fire Learning Network, and the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists, the Grandfather Ranger District has installed a series of informational signs along Old NC 105 on the west rim of Linville Gorge to share with the public information about fire safety, fire history, fire ecology, and firefighting. Visitors starting at the Information Cabin at the north end of Old NC 105 can visit the signs by driving south along the Fire Learning Trail as they take in the sights of the area.

The signs are accompanied by a series of pod casts featuring radio-style interviews with local fire managers that are available on iTunes (search: Fire Learning Trail) or on CDs distributed free of charge at the Linville Information Cabin.

The Fire Learning Trail is part of an effort to increase education on the history of the Grandfather Ranger District and the forces of nature that have shaped the forests. Specialists from The Nature Conservancy and the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists were on hand at the Linville Gorge Spring Celebration last weekend to talk to the public about this exciting new outreach effort.

What Does Restoration Look Like? Saving Hemlocks

Hemlock Preservation from Lisa Jennings on VimeoThis highlight is part of a series of videos celebrating the mid-point of the Grandfather Restoration Project to provide folks with an inside view into what restoration looks like in the forest. 

One of my favorite camp sites when I was younger was in a hemlock grove deep in the Wilson Creek watershed, where I could cool off under the emerald green canopy and the hemlock needles were so thick that I could sleep comfortably on the forest floor. Going back to that site today, it is much different from the magical place of my memories. Now, those towering green hemlocks are dull, grey, and leafless. The forest floor is littered with fallen branches and toppled hemlock trees.

In the last decade there has been a drastic change in the forest communities of the southern Appalachians. Hemlock woolly adelgid, a small aphid-like insect from East-Asia, has decimated hemlocks in eastern North America. First introduced in a private garden near Richmond, Virginia, the adelgid has spread both north and south – from Georgia to New England.

The adelgid attaches to the base of the hemlock needles, where it feeds on the sugars that are being transported from the needles to the tree. Infested trees can be identified by the white woolly mass on the underside of the branch. Over time the adelgid starves out the hemlock, leading to defoliation and eventually death.

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Signs mark treated Carolina hemlock trees

Scientists have yet to find resistant hemlocks in the east, leaving active treatment as the only option to save these iconic trees. Maintaining hemlock forests is one of the main goals of the Grandfather Restoration Project, an 8-year collaborative project to restore 40,000 acres of forest on the Grandfather Ranger District as part of the national Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Two species of hemlocks grow on the Grandfather District. The more common eastern hemlock grows in streamside forests. The rare Carolina hemlock grows on rocky outcrops. Both species are susceptible to the hemlock woolly adelgid.

The most common way to treat hemlocks for the adelgid is using an insecticide treatment. The Forest Service’s primary chemical of choice is called Imidacloprid. Imidacloprid is mixed with water and injected into the soil around the root system of a hemlock. The chemical moves into the foliage, killing the adelgids as they feed but leaving the foliage unharmed. This both maintains old hemlocks and supports regeneration of new hemlocks near the treated trees.

The other way to treat the adelgid is using a natural predator. Laracobius negrinus, a small beetle from the Pacific Northwest, is a natural predator of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Scientists at the Southern Research Station are studying how these beetles respond to the colder winters in our area, and how we can best use them.

Through the Grandfather Restoration Project, the Forest Service has treated thousands of hemlocks and partnered with leading researchers to release beetles at about a dozen locations on the Grandfather Ranger District. Although we cannot save every hemlocks, we can help preserve the species to ensure this iconic tree remains a component of the forest into the future.

Rose’s Mountain Prescribed Burn

This was the first ever burn at the Rose’s Mountain unit, which was the first unit to be burned under the new Grandfather Restoration Burns project. The ecosystem in this unit is highly fire-adapted, and was a top-ranking area to prioritize burns under the project. We had a great burn, blackening 70-80% of the unit, and meeting all objectives. Fire managers were able to keep the flames low in young pine areas to protect their growth. Firefighters also protected the Mountains to Sea trail, which received no damage in the burn. Thanks not only to our firefighters on the ground, but to all the collaborative members who helped guide the Restoration Burns project! We are excited to be able to restore these areas. This unit in particular has Fire Learning Network vegetation monitoring plots that will be monitored under the CFLR agreement with Western Carolina University.

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Date: March 9-10
Size: 3,100 acres
Location: North of Morganton, NC, South of Table Rock
Purpose: Restoration of fire-adapted communities, fuels reduction
Partners: The NC Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Burke County Emergency Management

What Does Restoration Look Like? Shortleaf Pine at Roses Creek

Shortleaf Restoration from Lisa Jennings on Vimeo — part of a series of videos on restoration celebrating the mid-point of the Grandfather Restoration Project.

Forest restoration is something that is talked about a lot these days. But what does restoration really look like on the ground? 2016 marks the halfway point in the project. In the past 4 years, Forest Service managers have been working with a group of partners to improve forest health on over 27,000 acres. One of the key projects the Forest Service has led is the shortleaf pine restoration work at Roses Creek, near Morganton, NC.

Shortleaf pines are a southern yellow pine that grow at lower elevations on the rolling slopes where the foothills meet the Appalachian Mountains. Shortleaf pine forests contain not only shortleaf pines, but a mix of oak species that benefit wildlife as well as other southern yellow pines. The stands are typically open – more like a woodland than a dense forest – and contain a rich understory of grasses and forbs. Historically, shortleaf pine forests were common on the dry, south facing slopes of the Grandfather Ranger District. Today, they are scattered across only a small percentage of the district.

Past records show that this forest type supported a wide variety of plant and animal species. Shortleaf pine forests in the Southern Blue Ridge once supported rare species like red cockaded woodpecker as well game species like bobwhite quail. But, the forests were hit hard on several fronts. First, much of the forest was lost with land clearing – which was common on these rolling slopes in the early 1900s. Next came fire suppression – without frequent fire the fire-loving oaks and pines were overtaken by yellow poplars and maples. The final hit was the southern pine beetle outbreaks in the 1990s which swept through the area, killing many of the remaining shortleaf pines.

Partners discuss shortleaf pine restoration near Roses Creek (photo by Adam Warwick, TNC)

Partners discuss shortleaf pine restoration near Roses Creek (photo by Adam Warwick, TNC)

The Roses Creek shortleaf pine restoration site provides an opportunity for these pine forests to come back to life. Last year, the Forest Service brought in local loggers to do a restoration harvest. Select yellow pine and oak trees were left in the overstory to provide structure and a seed source. After the harvest, the Grandfather Ranger District fire staff conducted a prescribed fire to prepare the seed bed. Southern pine seeds germinate best where there is little leaf litter, and burning will knock back some of the competing trees and shrubs. The final step is planting shortleaf pine seedlings in between the remaining trees to add to the seed source from the few existing shortleaf pines.

The Roses Creek site is just one example of shortleaf pine restoration under the Grandfather Restoration Project. Managers are working to restore the system so that rare plants and animals will return to the area, and future generations will be able to enjoy the unique and beautiful shortleaf pine forests. 

Wildlife and Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is an important tool for achieving the restoration goals of the Grandfather Restoration Project. Not only does the use of a low-intensity fire reduce fuels that lead to dangerous wildfires, but it also allows managers to restore fire-adapted forests.

Although burned areas can appear bare and inhospitable at first, low-intensity fire benefits the forest by increasing plant diversity, making important nutrients available to plants, allowing oaks to germinate, and providing food for wildlife. Animals are used to fire – they return to the area quickly, and plants regrow even faster than before the burn. Check out this cool time-lapse video showing what happens after a burn from the Clinchfield unit!

Clinchfield Wildlife Timelapse from Lisa Jennings on Vimeo.

 

Simpson Creek Watershed Improvement Project

We are excited to share the progress for the Simpson Creek project on Rose’s Creek Rd (also referred to as Table Rock Rd). What was once a small, elevated culvert is now a large aquatic organism passage big enough to drive a car through! This project provides native species with a way to move up and down stream while maintaining the natural stream channel and accommodating large flow events. The project also restored the riparian area above the road, which included bank reconstruction and planting native vegetation.

Simpson Creek Aquatic Organism Passage

Simpson Creek Aquatic Organism Passage

Planning for the Simpson Creek Watershed Improvement Project started in 2013. This CFLR project is part of a larger effort to improve watershed health on the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. In addition to the new passage and restored riparian area, road drainage in the area was improved with 7 new and 3 improved drainage relief pipes. Log vanes were installed in the stream channel to provide structure. The final phase of the project will improve a tributary to Simpson Creek by stabilizing the headcut, an erosion-caused feature where the bank drops off sharply causing sedimentation in high-flow events.

Detail of location and culvert before the project

Detail of location and culvert before the project