SAWS Restores Trails in Harper Creek

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Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards’ (SAWS) Central crew spent 6 days from July 8 to July 13, 2016 on the Pisgah National Forest in the Harper Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) working on the North Harper Creek (#266) and North Harper Creek Falls trails. Altogether the crew worked on about 1.5 miles doing a variety of trail work. This included 1277 feet of brushing to open the trail corridor, the removal of 15 trees from across the trail, digging 19 drains/grade dips for erosion control, installing 4 rock steps, and re-establishing 335 feet of tread. The crew also worked to close 885 feet of social trails, to ensure that users are able to identify where the actual trail is. The 6-person field crew partnered with the Grandfather Ranger District to plan, scout and complete this project.

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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 and Invasives: The Paulownia Problem

It is well understood that wildfires can promote invasive species — where wildfires burn with high intensities, fire removes the duff and litter layer, allowing invasive species that thrive on bare soil to germinate. One of the biggest invasive culprits in this area is Paulownia tomentosa (princess tree). One Paulownia tree is capable of producing twenty million seeds per year, which are easily carried by wind and water. Once the seeds establish in bare soil, the seedlings can grow to a height of 10-ft in a single season.

With the Table Rock Wildfire that burned in the Linville Gorge last fall, monitoring and treating invasive species (including Paulownia) was identified as the top priority in the Forest Service’s response post-fire. As part of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) for the Table Rock Fire resource values impacted by the fire were identified, and emergency funds were requested to treat invasive plant species. BAER is an emergency risk management tool that allows the Forest Service to respond to post-wildfire conditions that would destabilize or degrade the burned lands. Using BAER authority, the Forest Services and its partners have been monitoring Paulownia, treating infestations outside the wilderness boundary, and hand-pulling along trails within the wilderness.

Paulownia seedlings carpet the forest in areas where the Table Rock fire burned with high intensity near Chimney Gap

Paulownia seedlings carpet the forest in areas where the Table Rock fire burned with high intensity near Chimney Gap (photo by Kayah Gaydish)

Starting in August, our partners tasked with monitoring and treating Paulownia noted that there was an explosion of seedlings both inside and outside the wilderness boundary. Ben Prater and Kayah Gaydish of WildSouth, who have been leading the treatment efforts in partnership with the Forest Service, invited me out last week to see this firsthand (and put me to work to help treat the seedlings). I was amazed by the sheer number of seedlings coming up — in areas the forest is carpeted with young Paulownia. In inspecting the infestation, we could see that Paulownia occurs in large numbers only where the fire burned with high intensities. The Forest Service has mapped these areas, and luckily they only cover 8-acres (about 1/2 of a percent of the total fire area). In these areas, total canopy loss and the removal of all duff and litter provides the perfect environment for Paulownia — and thus these areas are the priority areas for treatment.

Ben Prater, Director of Conservation at Wild South, treats Paulownia seedlings with herbicide outside the wilderness near Chimney Gap

Ben Prater, Director of Conservation at Wild South, treats Paulownia seedlings with herbicide outside the wilderness near Chimney Gap

While there are some areas that burned with high-intensity outside the wilderness, much of this area lies within the wilderness boundary. Although we can treat those Paulownia seedlings that are outside the wilderness with herbicide, there is no authority to use herbicide within the wilderness. In fact, there is not even authority to hand-pull Paulownia. Without any methods to remove Paulownia from the wilderness, this invasive species would threaten native plant communities and degrade wilderness character.

In response to the infestation, the Forest Service is pursuing additional funding through BAER and authority to hand-pull Paulownia within the wilderness boundary through an Minimum Requirements Decision Guide (MRDG) and use of a Categorical Exclusion under NEPA. The MRDG, which was signed today, is a tool to assist wilderness managers in making appropriate decisions in wilderness. National Forest staff are currently gathering information to prepare a Categorical Exclusion to consider a timely and effective route to control the spread of the infestation. Once the Categorical Exclusion is signed, we will be organizing a broad-scale volunteer effort to get those Paulownia seedlings out before the leaves fall off and the sprouts become hard to identify.

So, as partners I ask you to stay tuned, because we could use all the help we can get in this time-sensitive effort! This will be a great opportunity to work together to help save the Linville Gorge, which holds a special place in all our hearts, from this aggressive invasive species.

Silver Lining Seen in Linville Gorge Wildfire

The Grandfather Restoration Project made an appearance in the Asheville, NC newspaper, The Citizen Times, for a follow up story on the Table Rock Wildfire that burned in the Linville Gorge Wilderness last November. The article was featured on the front page of the Sunday Edition of the newspaper.

Grandfather Restoration Project Coordinator Lisa Jennings inspects new growth 8 months after the Table Rock wildfire

Grandfather Restoration Project Coordinator Lisa Jennings inspects new growth 8 months after the Table Rock wildfire

The article provides a look at the aftermath of the Table Rock wildfire, and discusses the importance of fire within the Linville Gorge Wilderness area. It provides a well-rounded look at the subject, interviewing local hikers and activists as well as ecologists, and highlights the resiliency of the fire-adapted ecosystems.

Jennings thinks November’s Linville Gorge blaze offers a lesson on the benefits of fire in some ecosystems. “Hopefully it will change some people’s views about fire on the landscape.”

Read the full article on the newspaper’s website here: Silver Lining Seen in Linville Gorge Wildfire

Thought Provoking Article from the New York Times

You won’t hear it on your summer hike above the bird song and the soft applause of aspen leaves, but there’s a heresy echoing through America’s woods and wild places. It’s a debate about how we should think about, and treat, our wilderness in the 21st century, one with real implications for the nearly 110 million acres of wild lands that we’ve set aside across the United States.

Fifty years ago this September, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which created a national system of wilderness areas. Wilderness has been called the “hard green line” for the act’s uncompromising language: Man will leave these places alone. As the law’s drafter and spiritual father, Howard Zahniser, put it, “we should be guardians, not gardeners.”

At 50, however, the Wilderness Act faces a midlife crisis.

We now know that, thanks to climate change, we’ve left no place unmolested and inadvertently put our fingerprints on even the most unpeopled corners of the planet. This reality has pushed respected scientists to advocate what many wilderness partisans past and present would consider……………..

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/opinion/sunday/the-wilderness-act-is-facing-a-midlife-crisis.html?_r=1

 

Rising from the ashes: Table Rock wildfire stimulates plant growth

The Grandfather Restoration Project recently teamed up with a local journalist for the Morganton, NC newspaper, The News Herald, for a follow up story on the Table Rock Wildfire that burned in the Linville Gorge Wilderness last November.

Lisa Jennings inspects herbaceous growth 7 month after the Table Rock Wildfire (photo by Tyler Johnson, The News Herald)

Grandfather Restoration Project Coordinator, Lisa Jennings inspects herbaceous growth 7 month after the Table Rock Wildfire (photo by Tyler Johnson, The News Herald)

The article highlights the beneficial effects of fire and the need for applying prescribed fire to restore the fire-adapted communities in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.

“Because there is less shrub coverage (following fires), there is a lot more sunlight coming in and that will allow more herbaceous growth and the sun’s energy to reach the ground level,” Josh Kelly of Western North Carolina Alliance said. “Most of the diversity in our temperate forest is herbaceous. We have 130 species of trees in this area, but we also have 1,500 species of herbaceous plants.”

View the article on the newspaper’s website here: Rising from the ashes: Table Rock wildfire stimulates plant growth