By Karin Heiman, SERLC
I want to share with you one of my dreams that is coming true – saving trees! It is a win-win-win of a community coming together, saving trees for the future of our mountains, and a message that other communities may get inspired by.
On a freezing cold December day, I was with Jim Palmer and a large group of volunteers dedicated to saving hemlock trees. It was so crazy to see a community come together so strongly and volunteer in such cold snowy weather! To see hope and good being done in this current time is wonderful. I work for Southeast Regional Land Conservancy protecting land. For years, one of my dreams has been to save hemlock trees – This important legacy of our mountains has been losing the battle against the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid disease. It has wiped out the majority of hemlock trees that once covered our mountain coves. Birds, wildlife, and streams suffer as a result. Hemlocks have been so greatly lost already in the last number of years, even in Joyce Kilmer and so many other iconic places. We are trying to build ‘islands of hope’ to hold open the jaws of extinction while a ‘cure’ is being sought. On the two volunteer days, the lives of 279 hemlock trees were saved to live on in forests that are permanently protected.
It first started last spring. While monitoring the conservation easement land that joins the French Broad Crossing residential community in rural Madison County, I brought the idea up to residents Jim Palmer and Tim Hale as we walked the cool, shaded slopes dotted with hemlock trees that were beginning to suffer from the adelgid disease. They liked the idea and Jim ran with it. He was an unstoppable and charismatic force as he cataloged trees, inspired a large group of volunteers, and coordinated volunteer events. It never would have happened without his enthusiasm. They were going to start slowly and I told them within a 2-year window it would be too late – the time for action is now! We connected with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative (HRI; https://savehemlocksnc.org ) to strengthen the efforts. We learned so much from HRI and they even provided cost-share and on-the-ground staff. Jim organized two big field days, with a large group of volunteers and HRI staff, including two AmeriCorps volunteers. I couldn’t believe all these people came out in the icy cold to crawl around on steep slopes in the snow to save the trees! What I also didn’t expect was how good it felt to look at these trees afterward, knowing that we saved them. We had done something concrete and good for the future. And something other communities around WNC could do!