Shortleaf Restoration: Seedlings Planted at Rose’s Creek Project Sites

The shortleaf pine seedlings are in the ground at the Rose’s Creek Project sites! This is the culmination of years of efforts — from planning, to harvest, to site prep burns — the Rose’s Creek shortleaf pine restoration work is a great example of partners and Forest Service personnel from many resource areas working together to make a change on the landscape.

Newly-planted 2yr shortleaf pine seedling at Miller Mountain

Newly-planted 2yr shortleaf pine seedling at Miller Mountain

Bare root seedlings were planted at a 14ft by 14ft spacing at the Rose’s Creek units, and containerized seedlings were planted at a 20ft by 20ft spacing at the Miller Mountain units. The wider spacing at Miller Mountain is to encourage a higher component of oaks and mixed hardwoods in the stands. The planting crew finished both sites in a week, planting an amazing 40 acres a day!

Although the seedlings are in the ground, the work is not finished. Our silviculturalists installed monitoring plots (1 per acre) to check planting density. These plots will also be used for 1-year survival checks. At that point, we will determine if a herbicide release is needed, targeting non-native invasive species and any competing hardwood sprouts.

In addition to the silviculture plots, Tara Keyser, Research Forester with the Southern Research Station, will set up long-term regeneration plots to study competition at the shortleaf restoration sites. Tara will collect information about the planted seedlings, competing tree seedlings, white pine regeneration in relation to seed sources, herbaceous cover, and site-prep burn severity. We are excited to partner with the Southern Research Station to help inform next steps for the Rose’s Creek Project sites as well as future shortleaf pine restoration efforts.



Lightning Strikes Increase with Climate Change

Every year, lightning caused fires burn an average of over 250,000 acres in the Southern US. Climate Scientists studying atmospheric chemistry recently released a study in Science looking at how increasing temperatures with global climate change will affect the frequency of cloud-to-ground lightning. Hotter temperatures generally lead to increased thunderstorm activity. Results indicate a 50% increase in cloud to ground lightning strikes by 2100.

“All Global Climate Models (GCMs) in our ensemble predict annual mean lightning-strike frequency in the United States to increase, with a mean increase of 12% per °C. The standard deviation of the ensemble’s predictions is 5% per °C; therefore, we can conclude that the rate of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes over the US is likely to increase as a function of global mean temperature at a rate of 12 ± 5% per °C. Overall, the GCMs predict a ∼50% increase in the rate of lightning strikes in the US over the 21st century.”

Currently, the Southern Appalachian region receives 6 to 9 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per square mile every year (according to the National Lightning Detection Network). By 2100, that number is expected to increase to 9 to 13.5 lightning strikes per square mile every year.

from the National Lightning Detection Network

from the National Lightning Detection Network

Even though 90% of wildfires are human caused, this increase in lightning frequency will inevitably lead to a larger area of land burned in wildfires, highlighting the importance of fuel reducing mitigation methods like controlled burning.

View the article here: Projected increase in lightning strikes in the United States due to global warming

Saving a Keystone Species: Hemlock Restoration on the Grandfather RD

Introduction of the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) to the Eastern US has wreaked havoc on the native hemlock species, leading to range-wide declines and total loss of hemlocks in many areas in the Southern Appalachians. In late October, the Grandfather Restoration Project collaborative group got together for a fieldtrip to explore potential for expanded work on hemlocks. This includes both treatments of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), which have been taking place on the district for close to a decade, and hemlock restoration, which is a new concept both for the Grandfather Ranger District, and throughout the range of Eastern and Carolina hemlock.


Collaborative members discuss hemlock restoration along the Kitsuma trail

Joining us on this trip were 3 of the leading experts in hemlock research in the Southern Appalachians.

Chelcy Miniat, Research Project Leader from Coweeta Hydrological Laboratory, presented on the hydrological impacts of hemlock loss. Hemlocks provide an important role in riparian forests, regulating stream flow and shading streams from winter sun. As hemlocks die, they are generally replaced by rhododendron, and to a lesser extent water-loving hardwood species. This replacement has been found to lead to higher stream flows in the winter, and lower flows in the summer. Chelcy and her team also tested the effectiveness of the manufacturer recommended treatment dosages for imidacloprid, the main pesticide used to treat HWA on helmocks. Her research determined that the recommendations under-treated large trees, a finding that our silviculturalists can use in their management of HWA.

Bud Mayfield, Research Entomologist at the Southern Research Station in Asheville, spoke about current research on predator beetles that feed on HWA. These predator beetles provided a non-chemical treatment option, and are an important part of an integrated pest management approach to HWA treatments. The predator beetles Bud studies, a species called Laricobius nigrinus, are native to the Pacific Northwest. Compared to other potential predator beetles, they have a higher tolerance for cold Southern Appalachian winters. While predator beetles alone cannot keep up with the adelgid infestations alone, Bud’s research found that combining chemical HWA treatments with predator beetles allowed treatments to be effective longer, reducing the amount of pesticides used.

Robert Jetton, Research Professor at NC State University and Hemlock Project Leader at CAMCORE presented on species conservation efforts. CAMCORE, a non-profit tree conservation organization, has been collecting seeds from Carolina and Eastern hemlock populations in the Southern Appalachians for over a decade. With seeds in cold storage from hemlock populations across the Grandfather Ranger District, CAMCORE provides a seed bank repository for the Forest Service to be used in replanting the species. In addition to seed conservation, Robert is starting work with the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service to map all existing Carolina hemlock populations in order to more fully understand the distribution of the species and its conservation needs.


Treated Carolina Hemlocks along the Kitsuma trail

The collaborative also discussed current and future hemlock work on the Grandfather. Currently, we are treating Eastern hemlock trees that remain alive on the district, and are working to expand Carolina hemlock treatments with the help of CFLR funding. When treating mature hemlocks, young trees within a 10 meter radius of the treated mature tree also benefit from the effects of the pesticide treatment. However, beyond the ambient effect of treatments on regrowth nearby, there is little chance for young hemlocks to reach the over story, as HWA infests both young and old trees. Thus, planting of hemlocks was discussed as an option to supplement this new generation of hemlocks.

Eastern Hemlocks are considered a keystone species in stream-side areas, where they provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Unfortunately, there are no substitute evergreen tree species that grow in the streamside zones that Eastern hemlock occupies in the Southern Appalachians. So, even though there are no existing resistant varieties of Eastern hemlock, planting native Eastern hemlocks back into areas that we are currently treating, and committing to a long-term treatment plan for those hemlocks, is a viable option to ensure the persistence of the species and its role in the ecosystem. The members of the Grandfather Restoration Project are just starting to look at options for hemlock restoration plantings, and will be forming a sub-committee to discuss desired conditions and methods for restoration with minimal vegetation disturbance. We are excited to be working with the research community to take the first steps toward restoring this important keystone species on the Grandfather Ranger District!

Logging Benefits Insect Pollinators? New Research Examines The Relationship of Timber Harvest and Bug Habitat

Insect pollinators are critical for maintaining forest plant diversity.  Close to 70% of our flowering plants are pollinated by insects, including most of our spring wildflowers. However, research suggests significant pollinator decline throughout the U.S., likely due to native habitat destruction and climate change.  Interestingly, Southeastern Naturalist just published a new research paper that found that the logging roads and other openings that remain after a tree harvest in fact benefit insect pollinators.Pages from 2014 (Jackson et al) Logging Legacies Affect Insect Pollinator Communities in Southern Appalachian Forests

Timber Management is a key component of the Grandfather Restoration Project, and selective tree harvest is a valuable management tool used to restore native plant and animal communities. The National Forests of the Southern Appalachians were once a significant source for wood products throughout the nation. Once virgin timber was harvested, many areas were replanted with trees that were the most commercially valuable. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) was chosen as it is one of the most economically valuable trees due to its myriad of uses, longevity following harvest, rapid growth, and relatively few defects. Many areas of the Grandfather Ranger District are now dominated by densely planted white pine plantations, but the density of such stands prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor, which inhibits the growth of herbaceous plants and ultimately limits plant and animal diversity.

Over the past 50 years, the priorities of the US Forest Service have shifted. In general, the focus of our National Forest timber management programs are no longer solely for fiber production. As rapid urban development continues throughout the southeastern US, our native plant and animal communities are disappearing and the US Forest Service recognizes this. Fortunately, they also understand that the forests they manage are crucial for the preservation of biodiversity in our country. Although some past harvest practices have, justifiably, made many of us wary due to the environmental damage that can result, research over that past 30 years has demonstrated that well-planned timber management is an effective means of restoring our native plant and animal communities, including insect pollinators:

“Many temperate deciduous forests are recovering from past logging, but the effects of logging legacies and environmental gradients on forest insect pollinators have not been well-studied. In this study, we asked how pollinator abundance and community composition varied with distance from logging roads and elevation in old (logged >90 years ago) and young (logged 20–40 years ago) southern Appalachian forests. In summer, many pollinator groups were more abundant in younger forests and closer to logging roads, likely due in part to more light availability and a greater abundance of floral resources near roads. Total bee abundance was greater near logging roads, but only in younger forests, suggesting that the role of roads in providing nectar and other resources may diminish as forests mature. In spring, many pollinator families were less abundant at mid-distances (2–10 m) from roads compared to road edges (0 m), but abundances were generally the same at 100 m from the road as at road edges. Two important bee families, Apidae and Andrenidae, were strongly associated with high elevations in spring. Our results suggest that logging legacies may provide supplemental resources such as food and nesting sites to insect pollinators during the summer months especially, with the effects of roads often extending at least 100 m into young forests.”

So the next time you find yourself driving, biking, or hiking through the Grandfather Ranger District and come across a timber harvest, realize that although it may look somewhat unappealing in the beginning this work will not only benefit our natural communities over the long-term, but according to this research, it benefits insect pollinators in the short-term.

Access the full article:

Logging Legacies Affect Insect Pollinator Communities in Southern Appalachian Forests
Michelle M. Jackson, Monica G. Turner, and Scott M. Pearson      
Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 13, Issue 2 (2014): 317–336


Learning About fire in the Southern Blue Ridge

Restoring historic fire regimes is a landscape scale issue. With a century of fire supression, an estimated 80% of U.S. forests and rangelands have altered fire dynamics. Beyond just restoring fire-adapted ecosystems on the Grandfather Ranger District, the Grandfather Restoration Project and its partners are part of a larger landscape group working on restoring historic fire regimes to the Southern Blue ridge Mountains: The Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network (FLN). Organized by The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Blue Ridge FLN is a network of federal, state, and and non-profit agencies who are sharing their knowledge and experience in reintroducting fire into the Southern Blue Ridge landscape through prescribed burning. The group shares research, monitoring results, and management stratigies at an annual workshop, held this year in Cashiers, NC.

Mark Hall, South Carolina Parks and Recreation, talks about his experiences with prescribed burning in Jocassee Gorges State Park

Along with sharing sucess stories and challenges, presentations at the workshop focused on buidling capacity for prescribed burning programs, the effects of prescribed burns on wildlife — everything from salamanders to birds to small mammals, and creating fire-wise communities. More information can be found on the Southern Blue Ridge FLN workshop website.