Peruse our latest Annual Report/newsletter online with Issuu.
Peruse our latest Annual Report/newsletter online with Issuu.
Over the past year, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director, Marquette Crockett, has been talking to conservationists, wildlife agencies, landowners, and farmers about something deeply disturbing in the Highlands of Roan — the growing frequency of invasive wild hog damage.
“The hogs are causing noticeable damage to globally rare ecosystems, including grassy balds, and are spreading into private lands,” said Marquette. “At our spring Roan Stewardship meeting, I was tasked with coordinating our efforts to learn more about these invasive animals and how we can control them.”
She’s been actively been coordinating with partners on a plan to address the problem, and has a lot of information to share (including some tips about what to do if you come face to face with a bristly beast on the trail).
Let’s start with the basics – the word “feral” refers to a domesticated animal that has escaped and is surviving in the wild. Feral cats, dogs, pigs, and even donkeys are common, depending on what part of the globe you are in. So, when we refer to feral hogs, we are technically discussing domesticated animals that have escaped and are surviving in the wild. There are records of this type of “feral hog” from Roan Mountain and other areas in North Carolina in the late 1800s. However, it is important to understand that these are NOT the same hogs that we have today. The invasive hogs we are dealing with today are hybrids of feral hogs and Russian Boar.
According to the Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State, Russian boar were introduced to Hooper Bald in western North Carolina as a game species in 1912 and moved from there to locations around the country for hunting. Eventually, these hogs escaped from game farms and began to breed with escaped domestic hogs to create the hybrids we have today. Recently, these invasive hogs have been introduced into new areas of the state by humans in an effort to establish populations of hogs for hunting. They have been documented around the Roan Highlands since 2009, but may have been there longer. These invasive hybrid hogs are very aggressive and vigorous – they have no natural predators in Western North Carolina. Typically, hogs live 5-8 years and grow to about 200 lbs, but males may be much larger. Hogs begin breeding around 8-10 months old and have 1-2 litters (10-12 pigs) per year.
One of the major problems caused by invasive hogs stems from their diet – they are opportunistic feeders, eating plant material including grasses, tubers, acorns, nuts, fruits, bulbs and mushrooms. They also feed on invertebrates (insects, snails, earthworms, etc.), reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), and eggs, as well as live mammals and birds if given the opportunity. Feral hogs frequently feed on domestic agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, and melons.
Many of the rare plants and animals found in the Roan Highlands including Gray’s Lily, spruce-fir moss spider, endemic snails and rare salamanders could be eaten by feral hogs. Eggs and young of the golden-winged warbler, Henslow’s sparrow, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and other ground nesting birds would also serve as a food source. Other rare species, including Carolina flying squirrels may indirectly suffer from competition by hogs for their preferred foods including truffles and insects. In addition to direct predation and competition with rare species, invasive hogs can cause significant physical damage to seeps and springs, grassy balds, and other sensitive habitats.
Invasive hogs are a source of disease for both domestic livestock and humans. They carry and can transmit to livestock: pseudorabies Virus (PRV), swine brucellosis (Brucella suis), bovine tuberculosis (TB), FADs, African swine fever, Classical swine fever (Hog Cholera), and Foot and Mouth Disease. They may also carry and can transmit to humans: leptospirosis, brucellosis, E. coli, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, rabies, swine influenza viruses, trichinosis giardiasis, and cryptosporidiosis.
Unlike other large-scale environmental problems, we can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) feral hog populations from our landscape with successful trapping and removal programs. For example, hog eradication has been very successful in Kansas – the latest reports indicate that numbers are below 400 individuals statewide. The success of the Kansas program was due to a two pronged approach – the state removed hogs as a “game” animal which made it illegal to hunt them (and thus removed the impetus that hunters had to introduce them into new areas) and then began an aggressive eradication program.
Currently, SAHC and our state, federal, and NGO partners have created a working group to address the problem of invasive hogs in the Roan Highlands. We are currently working to monitor and pinpoint areas of high hog activity, to plan trapping programs, and to educate landowners about the impacts of feral hogs. Hopefully, through a partner and community based effort, we can keep these aggressive animals from destroying our fragile highland ecosystems.
Invasive hogs can be aggressive, especially when defending their young. They may weigh up to 300 lbs, have sharp tusks, and can charge very quickly.
Matt Coffay and Casara Logan of Second Spring Market Garden are in the house! The greenhouse, that is.
We want to send a big welcome to these first vegetable producers in our new Farmer Incubator Program, and a thank you to all the volunteers who helped put up infrastructure so they can start growing.
Second Spring Market Garden offers Asheville’s first 52-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) supplying fresh produce year-round. They will be growing a variety of vegetables using organic methods and efficient four-season production with two heated greenhouses now in place on our Community Farm.
SAHC currently has two farm ventures — Second Spring Market Garden and a heritage breed Pineywoods cattle operation — participating in our Farmer Incubator Program. The program provides low-cost access to land and resources for new or expanding agricultural operations and is aimed at helping the next generation of farmers fill the gap left as aging farmers retire.
“We’d spent several months looking for land,” explains Coffay. “We were selling out of produce each week with our existing markets and needed to expand up to about an acre-and-a-half of production in order to really be able to earn full-time incomes as growers. Land access is one of the biggest challenges facing young farmers, though — especially in an area like Asheville, where relatively flat, inexpensive acreage is hard to come by. Plus, in terms of leasing a property, renting cheap land with no infrastructure (water, electricity, vehicle access, etc) makes starting a farm –which is already no easy task — even more challenging.”
“When we found the Farmer Incubator Program, we knew we’d finally landed at the right spot. The folks at SAHC are assisting us with building the infrastructure we need in order to farm effectively on a small scale. We’ve also been given access to land at a rate that’s affordable for us. Without the Incubator, we’d probably still be looking for farmland.”
Second Spring is now taking sign-ups for 2015 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Paying for crop shares early in the year gives farmers some stability and provides up-front capital for supply purchases. Members of a CSA are then provided a weekly box share of the crop throughout the year.
“We’re really excited to be offering the first 52-week fresh vegetable CSA in Asheville,” added Coffay. “We believe that local food only really works if it’s available every week of the year. Community Supported Agriculture really does create community, too: our customers get to know one another, and we always invite folks to come out and see where their food comes from (and even lend a hand on the farm if they’d like). It also makes an enormous difference for us when people pay for their share at the beginning of the year, when expenses are high and income is low; so, we always ask that our members send in their payments as early in the year as they can manage. We’re also open to working out a payment plan for folks who can’t afford the full amount up front. Check out our website today to sign up, or send us an e-mail for more info!”
Also participating in the Farmer Incubator Program is Gina Raicovich with her herd of Pineywoods cattle, a resilient but now rare heritage breed. Her agricultural operation will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market (selling yearling heifers and grass-fed beef), utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing.
Last fall, Raicovich chose to lease land through the Farmer Incubator Program because it provides an affordable pasture lease with proximity to town, allowing her to keep a regular job while growing the herd.
“My lease at the SAHC Community Farm is allowing me to access land close to downtown Asheville so that I can easily grow a small herd while I continue to work full time and look for a more permanent land base for my operation. Ideally I’ll grow my operation to a profitable size before it’s time to leave the farm and shoulder a mortgage on my own land.”
The Farmer Incubator Program was introduced last year, and continues to accept applicants on a rolling basis. Funding for the successful launch of the program has been provided by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Southern SARE, US Department of Agriculture, and New Belgium Brewing Company.
We finally sealed the deal on a treasured 76-acre piece of the Roan landscape just below Carver’s Gap, a popular access point for the Appalachian Trail! In so doing, we have protected scenic views and hiking experiences for future generations to enjoy along the trail — and honored a civic leader of Spruce Pine who committed a lifetime to serving his rural mountain community.
“This tract has been a priority for SAHC for over 40 years, and we are thrilled to be able to conserve it,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “It was the last privately owned tract before you get to Carvers Gap, and because of its location and frontage on NC Highway 261, it was at high risk for development. We are so pleased that the landowners chose to sell to SAHC so that the land — and hiking experiences along the AT — will be preserved for the future.”
During the summer of 2013, over 3,500 people visited the grassy balds in the Roan by accessing the Trail via Carvers Gap. The recently protected, bowl-shaped property is highly visible from the AT at Jane Bald and Round Bald, lies approximately 900 feet south of the Trail at Engine Gap, and is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest.
Former SAHC Trustee and President (and avid Appalachian Trail enthusiast) Joe DeLoach added, “This tract was one of the closest private lands to the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands, in clear view between Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge. Development would have not only been a visual intrusion, with its proximity it could have resulted in the sounds of civilization reaching the ridgecrest. Protection of this longtime conservation priority ensures that the user will continue to experience mountain scenery and countryside views along one of the most heavily used sections of the AT.”
The natural features on the property include globally significant resources whose protection is valued by federal, state and private partners throughout the region. The tract is part of the Roan Mountain Massif Natural Area, which contains one of the most outstanding clusters of rare species and natural communities in the Southern Appalachians, and lies within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. Clean headwater sources and trout streams originate on the tract, and the rushing waters of Carvers Gap Creek, classified as Trout waters and High Quality Waters by the NC Division of Water Quality, run through it.
Portions of the tract have also been historically farmed, used for raising Black Angus cattle and, more recently, Christmas trees. Once owned by Dr. William Davenport, a prominent dentist in the mountain town of Spruce Pine, the land resonates with memories for former landowners Paul and Diane Pritchard, who sold the property to SAHC.
Diane’s father, Dr. Davenport, purchased the tract in 1946 and began breeding Black Angus cattle. Although he did not live on the property, he visited frequently and cherished the respite it afforded — a special place to get away from the busy demands of his career, to relax and enjoy nature. He selected a tenant family to live in a cabin on the property and care for the cattle, and he continued to take a regular, active role in managing the herd.
“He would go up to check on them often,” recalls Diane, who enjoyed accompanying her father on such visits and even gave pet names to the gentle cattle. “It was a place away from the hustle and bustle, the calling of needs and wants in town.”
Dr. Davenport continued to breed and raise cattle on the property until 1958. For a long time the land lay fallow, then the Pritchards inherited it and began farming Christmas trees on a lower portion of the tract. After evaluating many possible options for the land, they recently decided to sell to SAHC so that it could be permanently conserved.
“At this stage in our life it makes sense,” said Paul. “Twenty five years ago, we wouldn’t have wanted to sell it because of the sentimental value – the connection to Diane’s father. He was a great man and a great father – one of the finest men I’ve known.”
SAHC purchased the Dr. William Davenport tract using a combination of generous gifts and loans from private philanthropists. A portion of the transaction costs were supported by grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. We are actively working to raise funds to pay off the loan we took out in order to purchase the tract.
The view of Little Sandy Mush Bald, an iconic high elevation bald situated above rolling farms and coves, is prominent throughout the Sandy Mush community. Now, more of it has been permanently preserved for future generations. SAHC recently purchased 241 acres containing the northern slopes of Little Sandy Mush Bald. The tract also boasts some of the best northern hardwood forest in Madison County and adjoins two properties which had been previously protected with a conservation easement through SAHC.
The property rises to 4,800 feet in elevation at the summit of Little Sandy Mush Bald and is visible from the Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (Highway 209). Little Bald Branch, classified as an Outstanding Resource Water by the NC Division of Water Quality, and three of its tributaries originate on and flow through the property. Additional forested communities on the property include Rich Cove, Acidic Cove, Montane Oak-Hickory, and High Elevation Red Oak.
“The eight members of the Grateful Union Family, Inc. who sold property to SAHC are an example of a group of people coming together with a common interest to share a piece of the earth, and making it work,” added Pugliese.
“Since 1979, they have shared this very special place, showing a commitment to their personal goals of living lightly on the earth and being good stewards of the land. It is rare to see this degree of cooperation among a group of people that stands the test of time. Now they have exhibited this same spirit of cooperation and passion to agree to sell the upper slopes of their land to SAHC so that it can be preserved forever.”
Middle school kids these days have a bit of a bad rap — they watch too much TV, they have no work ethic, and they never go outside. Well, whoever says that has never met the students from the French Broad River Academy. Over the past year-and-a-half the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders from FBRA have volunteered over 700 hours at the SAHC Community Farm!
The French Broad River Academy was founded in 2009 as a place “to build character and integrity in young men for a lifetime of learning and service.” Since then, it has grown to the point that next year FBRA will be opening a middle school for girls. Service within the Asheville community is an integral part of the FBRA education and, as such, many of their “Field Lesson” Wednesdays are devoted to helping area non-profits. In 2013, the school contacted SAHC in hopes of working with us on some of our protected lands. We have since worked with the students numerous times on the Community Farm, and the school has been a valuable partner in so many of our projects.
Last fall, students removed dead Virginia Pine saplings from the Shortleaf Pine restoration area so that it could be prepared for the planting of 2500 additional Shortleaf trees. They helped to remove invasive plants along the trail corridor. This spring they mulched nearly a half-mile of trail that runs through one of our pastures. Upon returning this fall, they have worked diligently restoring sections of the trail that have been eroded.
SAHC Community Farm Assistant, Yael Girard, leads the middle schoolers on these service days and had this to say about them: “These students put their all into everything that they do. They work tirelessly with hand tools for hours, despite the fact that some of them only weigh 80 lbs. The teachers that lead the crews are incredible role models and I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to work with this group for the last year and half.”
By working on the SAHC Community Farm on a regular basis Andrew Holcombe, the teacher in charge of these outings, hopes that the students will find the value in striving towards a long-term goal and watching the changes on the property. He feels that they will become more invested in the projects and be more likely to understand conservation as something that affects them personally.
We thank them for their service!
On a brisk fall morning in October, a boisterous group of SAHC and Highland Brewing Company staff (and guests) met at the corner of Roaring Creek Road and 19 East, eager and excited for the busy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership work day ahead. The plan included removing invasive species and restoring habitat for Golden-winged Warblers (neo-tropical migratory songbirds that nest in the Highlands of Roan). Good company with cheery spirits, a gorgeous day on Grassy Ridge, and delicious food combined to create the recipe for a great workday!
Marquette, our Roan Stewardship Director, gave a brief introduction of the Grassy Ridge area and the importance for Golden-winged Warbler (GWW) management before we began. The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important to the GWW, a bird that faces such significant declines in population that it has become a proposed candidate for the endangered species. Western North Carolina has a special and important role to play in protecting the warbler because WNC is part of their migratory path and the southernmost area for breeding.
Part of SAHC’s plan for the Grassy Ridge property includes Best Management Practices for Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Half of our partnership work day group focused efforts on creating and improving habitat by weed-eating blackberry and other thick shrubs. Encouraging the growth of native grasses and wildflowers creates the perfect habitat for the GWW. The other half of the group created ‘early successional’ habitat by stacking brush-piles. This creates the sort of open edge habitat that GWWs need to thrive; other rare animals, like the Appalachian cottontail, also love nesting and foraging in these brush piles.
It was a chilly day on the mountain, but that didn’t stop us from working hard and having a good time. Later in the day, a group took a hike up to the top of the ridge, where a 360 view of the Highlands of Roan could be seen. Standing just below Grassy Ridge and Round Bald we all took in the view of Yellow Mountain, Little Hump and Hump Mountain and Grandfather Mountain way off in the distance. The ridgeline eyesore, a multi-story block resort building located on Sugar Mountain, could also be seen in the distance. This was my first time witnessing the incredible impact the building has on the scenic viewsheds in the Roan. While its stark silhouette stands out against the curves of the mountains, I was reminded that its presence along the ridge now serves as a reminder of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 and the importance of organizations like SAHC and their conservation efforts.
As the afternoon slowly turned into dusk, Kristy and Marquette called for the group to put down their tools and come inside. A wonderful spread of homemade pickles, corn salsa and pepper jelly, cheese, and fruit, awaited us. Kristy’s famous vegan chili was on the stove and we all began warming up and filling our bellies with good food and drink. The workday ended and the night drifted into laughing and storytelling around the campfire before transitioning inside for the night.
If you have ever visited a nursery or a commercial farm, you have probably seen large “hoop houses” stretching out sometimes as far as the eye can see. Without these structures, farmers would be limited to growing only during the warm season, thus drastically cutting their production. These season extension devices can range from an unheated plastic covered tunnel too small to walk through, up to engineered glass buildings with automatic venting and precise temperature control. The main objective, however, is the same: to allow the propagation and growing of plants during the colder months of the year.
The SAHC Farmer Incubator Program was lucky enough to receive two of these hoop houses (also known as greenhouses or high tunnels) this fall. Cathy and George Phillips, of Early View Nursery, learned of our need for heated growing space and offered to donate two greenhouses. Although one of the donated houses was too small for our program, we were able to sell it in order to raise funds for other much needed improvements. The second new greenhouse for our Community Farm came through the TVA Ag and Forestry Fund grant that we were awarded this summer.
As you can see from the photos, the greenhouses that we have put up are steel hoops wrapped in a double layer of plastic. The double wall allows for an air pocket between the plastic, and greater insulation. The houses will be heated with propane furnaces and vented with fans that will be on timers. Putting these greenhouses together required work of numerous volunteers and real team effort. In fact, a group of volunteers will be coming out to the farm this Friday to put the plastic sheeting and final touches on the second greenhouse.
Thanks to everyone involved, Matt and Casara from Second Spring Market Garden will soon be able to produce vegetables to sell throughout the winter. This will greatly increase their sales and ability to compete in the local markets. When their time at the SAHC Community Farm is over, the greenhouses will be a resource for the next set of vegetable producers.
Last weekend, we welcomed Gina Raicovich and her herd of Pineywoods cattle to our Community Farm in Alexander, NC. Gina started and managed the 60-acre educational University Farm at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is now branching out in her own agricultural venture.
Pineywoods cattle are a threatened heritage breed that thrives in hot, humid climates and can graze on lower quality forage. Originating in Spain, Pineywoods cattle were once used across the Southeast, but now only around 1,000 remain.
Gina’s agricultural operation within our Farmer Incubator Program will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market, utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing and the possible addition of goats as inter-grazers. She is passionate about conservation and rejuvenation of this unique heritage breed, and feels that her interests (and needs for the herd) align well with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s mission as well as the resources offered at our Community Farm.
We look forward to seeing these charismatic cattle flourish. Stay tuned for future updates!
Taking place Dec. 2, #GivingTuesday comes on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to create a better world. It harnesses the power of social media, creating a national moment around giving, inspiring people to take collaborative action that improves their local communities by supporting the causes and charities most important to them.
“We are incredibly grateful for the supporters of our organization,” said Carl Silverstein, Executive Director. “Their passionate commitment to conservation provides us with the resources to continue our work, as well as leverage to obtain state and national funds for the preservation of critical mountain tracts.”
Contributions to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy can be made at Appalachian.org or mailed to SAHC at 34 Wall Street, Suite 502, Asheville, NC 28801.
Gifts to SAHC help preserve places to recreate — such as the three critical tracts along the Appalachian Trail corridor recently preserved near Hughes Gap, Rocky Fork, and Carvers Gap. Contributions also empower the SAHC to continue our farmland preservation efforts, including the creation of a new Farmer Incubator Program at our Community Farm. Money given also funds protection of clean headwater sources for local drinking water supply, as well as habitat for rare plants and animals.
“Some of the most important and innovative work happening today in land conservation is happening at an intensely local level,” said Rob Aldrich, director of community conservation at the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization that counts SAHC among its 1,200 member land trusts. “Contributions to connect people from all walks of life to the land are what we hope this Giving Tuesday encourages.”