Flat Top Carolina: Hemlock
A few years ago, while backpacking through Olympic National Park, I crossed paths with a fellow Easterner who hailed from Washington, DC. Being an outdoor enthusiast and living so close to Shenandoah National Park, I thought I might glean a few insider’s nuggets, a recommendation or two for hidden treasures in and around the park. My question, however, was met with a sigh, a dejected look and a subtle, side-to-side movement of his head. “I don’t go to Shenandoah anymore,” he slowly replied. “It’s too depressing—way too depressing. All the trees are dead or dying.”
In reality all the trees in Shenandoah were not dead or dying, though hit by a double dose of hemlock woolly adelgid and gypsy moth, it could at times feel that way. But regardless of how accurate his assessment was, what he had seen and felt spurred him elsewhere, away from an area he had visited for years. That, too, is reality: a reality that strikes fear in the department of tourism and the chamber of commerce.
In the three years since that conversation in the Olympic Mountains, much has changed. Many more tourist driven communities have reason to feel uneasy, as many more areas along the Blue Ridge and throughout Southern Appalachia have been overrun by the non-native hemlock woolly adelgid. All the trees are not dead or dying; it’s just that the hemlock is so unique in form and setting, so widely prevalent and thoroughly integral—that it often feels that way.
I believe that, historically, the hemlock situation will define our generation’s commitment to preservation throughout Southern Appalachia. Right now, we are failing miserably, trusting much and demanding little from our elected officials and their political appointees. To save any significant percentage of our region’s hallmark trees we must promptly provide significantly more funds to the hemlock’s cause. We cannot continue at the same levels and expect much in the way of results.
In 2004 the National Forest Service spent $1.6 million out of a $4.469 billion budget to suppress the hemlock woolly adelgid in Southern Appalachia. Assume that same year an average American citizen who earned $32,937 (U.S. per capita personal income) purchased a “Save the Hemlocks” t-shirt at a cost of $19. As a percentage, John Q. Public contributed more—about 60% more—of his annual resources to the hemlock cause in Southern Appalachia than did the U.S. Forest Service.
It gets no better where the National Park Service is concerned. For the Great Smokies there was a 2 ½ year wait between the initial adelgid infestation and the park’s first earmarked, adelgid-control departmental funding. The late-arriving $481,000 was, by the park’s own 2004 estimate, only enough to cover 2.3% of the cost to treat all of the park’s hemlocks.
These amazing trees, the ecosystem they support, and the generations of Americans still unborn deserve better. And, frankly, we can do better. If the estimated revenue collected—just collected—by the federal government in 2004 was represented by the distance of a mile, the funds allotted to our hemlock's defense in Southern Appalachia would have amounted to 1.3 millimeters. Consider that needle in the forest, and then consider the unique role and beauty of these keystone trees. What might be accomplished by 3, 4 or, dare I dream, 5 millimeters?
The following photos provide a peak at the hemlock’s unmatched splendor, its special role, particular qualities and, as must be included, its perilous state. The pictures do not even begin to do the great trees justice. They cannot. For that, you must go see them first hand. Don’t delay.
My hope is that you will return from such an outing demanding of yourself and of public officials that much more be done to save this irreplaceable tree. The adelgids are spreading; the clock is ticking. Literally, it is now or never.
Non-profits accepting donations for suppression of the hemlock woolly adelgid:
- Tsuga Search is an effort to document and help treat the unsurpassed eastern hemlocks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Will Blozan, President of the Eastern Native Tree Society, is spearheading the effort. Over the last several years, Blozan has discovered and documented numerous national champion trees. Links providing information on the Tsuga Search project and how to help with funding can be found at the address below. Explore other links to find trip reports involving climbs of incredible old-growth hemlocks exceeding 160 feet in height. Also included are photos from these amazing perspectives. www.uark.edu/misc/ents/tsuga/index_tsuga_search.htm
- Georgia ForestWatch is fighting to save the hemlocks on many fronts. Efforts include educating the public and media on the hemlock woolly adelgid threat, grassroots and foundation fundraising for a predatory beetle-raising facility at the University of Georgia, and taking the issue to local, state and federal political leaders. Donations are welcomed online at www.gafw.org/HWACampaign.htm or by calling 706-635-8733.
- The Chattooga Conservancy and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance partnered to get the beetle lab at Clemson University established. Donations are still welcomed by the Chattooga Conservancy in the ongoing fight against the hemlock woolly adelgid. Please specify that your gift be directed to the Chattooga Conservancy Beneficial Insect Control Project. Donations are accepted online at www.chattoogariver.org/membership.htm where mail-in forms are also available for printing, or by calling 706-782-6097.
- Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park played a huge role in getting the beetle lab at the University of Tennessee established. The group continues to help the park’s hemlocks, contributing $136,000 to the cause in 2006. Donations can be made online at www.friendsofthesmokies.org/donate.html or by calling 1-800-845-5665. Please specify that your gift be used in the fight to suppress the hemlock woolly adelgid.
- Great Smoky Mountains Association offers “Save the Hemlocks” t-shirts. Shirts are $18.95 and $20.95 for 2XL. They can be picked up at the park’s visitor centers, online at www.smokiesstore.org/browse.cfm/4,582.htm or by calling 1-888-898-9102. While all proceeds no longer go to saving the hemlocks, wearing the shirt effectively raises visibility and sparks interest.
- Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway has been contributing to the beetle development effort at Virginia Tech. Donations can be made online at www.blueridgefriends.org/index.cfm/fa/content.view/menuID/838.htm or by calling 1-800-228-7275 Monday through Thursday from 10am to 1pm.
A map showing the range of infestation through 2005 is available at the following address: http://na.fs.fed.us/fhp/hwa/maps/hwa_2005.jpg.