The ecological diversity in the area we live in is something to really be proud of but it is becoming increasingly harder to sustain its amazing diversity. “The Cumberland Plateau… is widely considered one of the most biologically rich regions on Earth, rivaling the biodiversity of tropical rainforests” (Kingsbury, n.d.). In particular, the Eastern and Carolina hemlock tree species have been hit hard by HWA. Leaving some areas in Tennessee and surrounding states devastated and in turn develop additional negative impacts to potentially strike such as the wildfires of November 2016. The aphid-like insects are an invasive species from Asia. Around 1951, found along the east coast of Virginia. Spreading approximately 15+ miles a year and infiltrating a total of 17 eastern US states to date. Converting East Tennessee’s beautiful biodiversity along mountain streams, creeks, and rivers where lush green, climate cooling habitat pillars grow, to ghostly gray tree skeletons. Places where the fisherman, hiker, kayaker, hunter and wildlife would frequent.
Hemlocks are foundational to steep, riparian, streamside environments. Scientifically known as a “keystone species” and ecological “regulator.” Once removed, the soil, stream, and biological dynamics are permanently altered. Unless something is done to help the tree continue to provide the ecological foundations it’s designed to be for our Tennessee watersheds, springs, and steep ravine environments; our environments will succumb the loss of this keystone player.
By 2002, Tennessee experienced the beginning effects of this non-native pest, with zero natural predation, on what was once healthy trees fighting back natural competition and predation. To soon-to-be dead trees because Eastern and Carolina Hemlocks have zero resistance to this alien insect and nothing naturally here on our side of the US map to provide natures’ checks and balances. By 2008, the spread rate made its way into Rhea county.
When nature can’t hold its own, people have to come to the task of stewardship until nature hopefully counteracts the problem on its own. In the recent years, the invasive HWA has had push backs from a very effective partnership in Tennessee, called the Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership. Formed to combat this pest and save not just a tree but vast landscapes and a unique ecological system. The organization comprises of state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, university professors, and concerned private landowners who take action to halt what nature has not yet provided…a HWA predator for nature’s checks and balances.
THCP and the Tennessee Department of Forestry’s Strike Team creates awareness and offers education to the public for treating their own hemlocks through landowner workshops, Facebook, “What a Pest” signs, word of mouth, forestry meetings open to the public, and annually deploys an effective Strike Team. They hike out throughout Tennessee lands, carrying heavy loads to skillfully combat HWA in our beautiful state parks, natural areas, and wildlife management areas. This fantastic partnership, THCP, and team offer education about the pest, spread rates, annual actions being taken, education on the correct method and applications, academic discoveries and findings, planning for treatment, and actions being taken to prevent the catastrophic loss of this vital species to forest health and community prosperity. If you see the “What a Pest” sign, you know your favorite public park, or certified forest stewardship has been cared for to sustain what some scientist call the “Redwoods of the East.”
Our area is quickly rising as an eco-tourism area: the Cumberland Trail developing for hiking enthusiast to pursue; Bass tournaments to compete in; and big and small game hunting areas to enjoy with friends and family. Examples like these do or will bring economic gains for the community. A loss in this keystone species could adversely affect the habitat that Hemlock trees create, and subsequently economic areas that draw from those habitats.
Tennessee has been proactive. Through the use of proper treatment application via the rigorous academic studies and improved rates, the Strike Team traverses extreme terrain. This team has recently been helping public areas like Rhea County’s Piney River and Piney Falls Natural Area, Stinging Fork Falls, Laurel-Snow Falls, or Soak Creek. (The team does treat many other public parks throughout Tennessee). Private landowners also have the opportunity to conserve their own trees and can seek the assistance of the Tennessee Department of Forestry to borrow equipment or receive education to properly treat hemlocks.
The TN Department of Forestry’s Hemlock Strike Team go into very difficult areas at times, hiking long distances carrying heavy loads. In efforts to help this team, the THCP, and Tennessee public forests that buffer our tree farm – Stinging Fork Falls, Little Soak and Soak Creek – we have provided them access through our family’s certified Forest Stewardship we like to call CRC Stewardship Ridge. Any other way it would take them all day just to trek to their destination. We are happy to help them spend more time treating this foundational species versus missing it altogether due to time constraints, budgets, and distance with heavy loads in steep terrain. In our way it’s another way to help the east Tennessee forests, support our view of forest stewardship, and help sustain the natural resources in our economy and the environment of tomorrow.
Kingbury, Paul (n.d). “Tennessee: A Big Deal to Connect the Cumberlands,” The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, Retrieved from: www.nature.org.
My husband, Chris, and I are active members of the Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership, and manage a certified American Tree Farm and Forest Stewardship in Spring City – we like to call CRC Stewardship Ridge