Fred Hain knows that when a forest dies — from its deep root system up to its canopy that once teemed with birds, squirrels, and insects — it makes no sound. For the past two decades, he’s watched green hemlock forests in the North Carolina mountains quietly fade to ashen gray.
Now Hain, director of the Forest Restoration Alliance, and his fellow researchers are trying to restore the last of the state’s hemlock stands, which have been devastated by a tiny insect. Smaller than a poppy seed, the hemlock woolly adelgid (uh-DEL-jid) has killed thousands of acres of hemlocks in the eastern United States, including North Carolina, where trees are dying from Cumberland Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, all the way to Cherokee.
“You can’t save every tree. There are just too many,” says Harris Prevost, vice president and operations manager of Grandfather Mountain. “You’d think a big, majestic tree like that could fight those little bugs off, but that’s just not the case.”
Until the 1950s, when the adelgid invasion began on the East Coast, cathedrals of eastern hemlocks had lined Appalachian rivers and dominated forests for 15,000 years. Native Americans made food from hemlock bark and brewed healing teas from its short needles. Settlers used the wood for homes and the bark for tanning leather. Squirrels, deer, birds, and fish depended on them.
Continue reading at Our State Magazine (written by Eleanor Spicer Rice)