Usually, kayakers try to stay away from trees in a river. Not near Asheville, N.C>, where a crack team of whitewater kayakers is helping conservationists save hard-to-reach Hemlocks deep in North Carolina’s Green River Gorge on the Green River.
Several nonprofit and government partners have teamed up with a crew of experienced paddlers for a unique mission: save the hemlock tree from the scourge of the hemlock woolly adelgid along North Carolina’s famed waterway.
Many of the largest hemlocks along the Green River are found in the Green River Gorge, whose steep terrain make the trees inaccessible by foot. Together, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, American Whitewater, and MountainTrue have found a unique solution to the growing problem: the Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce (PHHAT).
Recruited from a robust local paddling community, PHHAT paddlers receive training in treatment techniques and safety protocols. They 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 5 years.
“We’ve carefully developed a protocol that allows expert paddlers to treat remote hemlocks in an effective and safe manner,” said Margot Wallston, Coordinator with Hemlock Restoration Initiative.
As a foundation species, hemlock trees play a vital role in structuring ecosystems. Active when deciduous trees are not, hemlock trees stabilize riverbanks, regulate river flows, and balance river temperatures, among other important functions.
“The health of the Green is so closely tied with the health of the hemlocks” said Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper and MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Director. “And the Green, perhaps as much or more than any other place, is really worthy of some stewardship.”
The hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive pest from East Asia, 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 and 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 NC 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.”
About the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is the state government agency tasked with conserving and sustaining the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, wise use and public input. The Commission is also the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing the state’s fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws.
About the Hemlock Restoration Initiative
The Hemlock Restoration Initiative, a program of WNC Communities, works with the NCDA&CS, the USDA-FS and others to ensure that eastern and Carolina hemlocks can withstand the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid and survive to maturity on North Carolina’s public and private lands.
About America Whitewater
American Whitewater advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States, and connects the interests of human-powered recreational river users with ecological and science-based data to achieve the goals within its mission.
About Mountain True
MountainTrue champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in Western North Carolina. To this end, MountainTrue fosters and empowers advocates throughout the region to be engaged in policy and project advocacy, outreach and education, and on-the-ground projects.