Group receives $8,000 grant to save hemlock trees at Green River Gorge

Published 8:00 am Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce a group of whitewater kayakers, nonprofit and government partners working to save hemlock trees in the Green River Gorge has received an $8,000 grant from the Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation of Henderson County.

PHHAT’s mission is to save hemlock trees from the hemlock woolly adelgid, a non-native invasive insect from East Asia that is decimating hemlock tree populations in the Southeast.

The grant from the Community Foundation of Henderson County will fund this work for the next year and purchase equipment for PHHAT volunteer teams.

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“The health of the Green is so closely tied with the health of the hemlocks,” said Gray Jernigan, Green River keeper and southern regional director of MountainTrue. “We are so grateful for this funding to allow us to continue this project for another year and save more trees that are vitally important to the forest and river ecosystem.”

Many of the largest hemlocks along the Green River are found in the Green River Gorge, which has steep terrain that makes the trees inaccessible by foot. Since 2017, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, American Whitewater and MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper have come together to train local paddlers in hemlock treatment techniques and safety protocols.

The paddlers then navigate the Green River’s tricky waters to bury pellets of a hydrophobic pesticide around the roots of hemlock trees. Currently the only reliable remedy, this treatment protects the trees for up to five years.

As a foundation species, hemlock trees play a vital role in structuring ecosystems, representatives said. Active when deciduous trees are not, hemlock trees stabilize riverbanks, regulate river flows and balance river temperatures, among other functions.

The hemlock woolly adelgid feeds off the trees’ sap and starch, disrupting their nutrient processes and eventually killing off the trees. First reported in Virginia in 1951, the hemlock woolly adelgid has spread to 20 states, from Georgia to Maine, as well as one Canadian province.

“As land managers, we often rely on the help of volunteers and partners to expand the capacity of work needed to conserve our Game Lands,” said Ryan Jacobs, wildlife forest manager for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “The work these paddlers are taking on here at Green River would never have happened without their passion for this special place.”

“Our hope is to see our program mirrored in other waterways across the region and even around the nation,” said Kevin Colburn, national stewardship director for American Whitewater. “As kayakers, it’s great to be able to give back to some of the places that have given us so much as a community.”

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– Submitted article