Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
This is a cross-post from www.hopeforhemlocksky.org by Kentucky Heartwood's hemlock program coordinator, Austin Williams. You can visit that site to learn more about the decline of Eastern hemlock in Kentucky and how you can help, including information on treating hemlocks on your land.
The functional extinction crisis of the Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, is ongoing.
We’re doing all the right things, more or less. At our most recent (indoor) meeting with the Forest Service and Kentucky Division of Forestry we found out that Kentucky’s imidacloprid (the insecticide effective against hemlock woolly adelgid) treatment program is one of the most, if not the most, robust in the nation. More trees treated, more trees saved, than similar programs in New York or Vermont. That’s good, even if it gives me the feeling that we’ve sailed gracefully over a rather modest hurdle. Regardless, treatment has begun for the Winter 2018/Spring 2019 season, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure more trees are treated on the Daniel Boone. However, now that it's been seven years since the treatment program began, resources also have to go toward re-treatment of previously treated trees. The current level of available resources, mostly money, means that it will be increasingly difficult to designate new hemlock treatment areas on public land.
We’re now sharing data with the Division of Forestry treatment team, helping them identify previously treated stands, that should be prioritized for re-treatment. We’re also planning volunteer service days to begin in early 2019 (watch for specific dates soon!). Volunteers will help measure and mark trees for treatment and help carry equipment, letting crews from the Kentucky Division of Forestry handle the chemical. This gets the application done faster and increases the number of trees we can treat. At least one of these events will take place in an old-growth hemlock stand that would not be treated otherwise. All good.
We're using this shared mobile GIS system to check on previously treated Hemlock Conservation Areas and recommend new ones.
And we've got beetles!
Predator beetle release on October 25 in Laurel County. We helped release more than 500 L. nigrinus, which prey on HWA in the Pacific Northwest.
So far this fall we’ve helped to plan and implement two releases of the HWA predator beetle, Laricobius nigrinus, on the Daniel Boone in Laurel County. Over 1,000 beetles were released in total in October and November. The Larrys* (that is, Laricobius beetles) were raised at the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Laboratory at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
*Entomology note: No one involved in the research or rearing or release of Laricobius beetles says Laricobius. They say Larry. It’s a remarkably consistent shibboleth. Sometimes I say Laricobius and I feel a weird embarrassment. Like I’m the nerd. Entomologists are, it turns out, cool cats.
When the lab was having a hard time finding live adelgid to feed the beetles last winter and spring, Kentucky Heartwood trucked down infested branches from the Boone to supplement the food source. And so now some of those beetles are coming back north to get some of Momma’s cooking; we're releasing them in one of the same sites where we collected live adelgid for the lab. We sincerely thank Dr. James Parkman for providing the beetles for release on the Boone. He has no contractual obligation to do so, though we’re trying to formalize the relationship with the lab to guarantee beetles for release in years to come. For this season, Dr. Parkman has indicated that we are likely to get 1-2 more releases of roughly the same size as the first two.
Lots of good news.
So why do I feel so uneasy? Why do I keep finding myself grinding my teeth every time I walk up a holler and into an old hemlock grove?
Because the functional extinction crisis of Eastern hemlock is ongoing. Because branches and whole tops of trees and whole trees are starting to come down all over the forest.
The work we're doing is important, and it's crucial for future and long-term efforts to save, and restore, Eastern hemlock in our forests. The areas of forest we save may provide the needed genetic diversity for the success of future breeding and reintroduction programs. But at best we’re only saving a handful of trees in a handful of places, and it’s heartbreaking.
Last week we spent some time in the Redbird District of the Daniel Boone looking at ongoing logging from the Group One Redbird River Project, and forests now proposed for logging under the South Redbird proposal. The Group One project was withdrawn twice after administrative appeals filed by Kentucky Heartwood. The project, though smaller than initially proposed, was ultimately approved in 2008 and included nearly 1,500 acres of logging. The South Redbird project, as currently proposed by the Forest Service, would cut about 3,200 acres of forests in the district.
The Group One site we visited was a shelterwood cut to create early seral habitat (brush, young vegetation) on a steep mountain slope above Ulysses Creek. The logging happened sometime between 2010 and 2013 on a forest that was about 110 years old. The harvest methods used on the Ulysses Creek site are essentially identical to what's now proposed for nearly 3,200 acres of the South Redbird project. Spreading from the "temporary" roads bulldozed across the slope, infestations of invasive species are proliferating. Kudzu, autumn olive, Japanese stiltgrass, multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, and sericea lespedeza are all well-established and expanding. Many of the trees left standing have been badly damaged from poor felling or skidding practices, and tree roots are tore up from dozers. Logging on 50 percent slopes caused a loss of soil duff and the exposure of mineral soil. It's really bad, and bad throughout. The stand that we looked at was 34 acres. The amount proposed for logging in the South Redbird project would be about 100 times that.
On that same day we also visited a site in the South Redbird project that's similarly proposed for a shelterwood cut to create early successional habitat. The forest above Flat Creek near the Redbird River includes high quality, functional secondary old-growth. While second-growth at about 130 years of age, the forest includes very large trees, large-diameter down wood and standing snags, den trees, and large canopy gaps. These are all classic, functional structures of old-growth forests in the region. They are also exceedingly rare in the generally young forests of the Redbird District.
Below are several annotated photos from the two sites. Pictures don't do either site justice, but we are planning a field trip in the near future. If you'd like the opportunity to join us on a field trip, or to be notified of the next comment period for the South Redbird project, please sign up for emails from Kentucky Heartwood. There's still time to save the forest above Flat Creek, and thousands more acres across Redbird.
This image shows a gorgeous stand of secondary old-growth high on the slopes above Flat Creek. The trees in the picture mostly range from about 18 to 30 inches in diameter, and include large black oak, white oak, American beech, yellow buckeye, sugar maple, black gum, and others species. The Forest Service has proposed to cut nearly every tree here, and bulldoze roads throughout to haul out the timber.
The lower slopes of the Flat Creek site are dominated by large American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees, with just a scattering of oaks. Logging the site doesn't even make sense under conventional forestry systems. American beech trees are also dying across the northeastern U.S. as beech bark disease spreads (a result of the non-native scale insect Cryptococcus fagisuga), though it has yet to reach Kentucky.
This stand has some exceptionally nice, large black oaks (Quercus velutina).
A big, old white oak (Quercus alba). There's a lot of concern being expressed by foresters in Kentucky about the potential loss of white oaks in the future due to problems they're having becoming established in forest understories. However, the types of logging that are happening on the Daniel Boone and elsewhere in eastern Kentucky are largely shifting the forest away from white oak and toward more red maple and tulip poplars. It's a fact that the forest products industry doesn't want to grapple with. Instead, we're getting more and more calls to cut our way out of the problem and just making it worse.
There's nothing quite like a big shagbark hickory (Carya ovata).
Austin and Jim measuring a 30" black oak (Quercus velutina).
This is a bulldozed hillside in the Ulysses Creek site in the Group One project. The road grade was cut down about 5 feet and tore through the roots of oaks that were left standing. The vegetation established on the road in this picture includes some of the most notorious and problematic invasive plant species impacting our forests, including autumn olive, Japanese stiltgrass, and multiflora rose. This site is about midway up the slope.
The loss of forest canopy does create brushy habitat that's useful to a number of species, especially some migratory bird species. But this status lasts only a few years. And unlike the more natural impacts of ice storms, wind, and fire, logging can cause lasting damage that the forest is not adapted to. Beyond changes in forest structure and species composition, the roads bulldozed into the mountainside and infestations of non-native invasive plant species will likely persist for generations.
An awful infestation of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). This wasn't an isolated patch, as honeysuckle and other invasives were found throughout the cut stand.
An infestation of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) working its way up the mountain slope.
An infestation of kudzu on a logging road bulldozed up the mountain.
A lot of the trees left standing in the Ulysses Creek site were substantially damaged by logging operations.
Remember, it's not too late for the Forest Service to change course, and to see more of the Redbird District protected and preserved as it ought to be. Join our email list, and if you're not already a member please support our work by joining Kentucky Heartwood.