“For Love of Beer and Mountains”
On Saturday, June 2nd, eight Highland Brewing Company volunteers, two SAHC volunteers, and seven SAHC staff performed clean up work on Little Hump Mountain in the stunning Highlands of Roan. Our crew was lucky — the day started out overcast, but breezes swept away the clouds to reveal a panoramic backdrop, so we could enjoy gorgeous views during the work day. We focused on habitat management in this early-successional wildlife restoration project area, where SAHC had paid contractors in summer 2011 to create wildlife openings. Our team partners moved downed woody debris into piles to facilitate future management and provide cover for small mammals and other wildlife.
SAHC, Highland Brewing Company, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service collaborate throughout the year to heighten public awareness of the natural treasures that make this region so attractive. Each HBC seasonal brew is named for a feature of the Southern Appalachian landscape: the Little Hump Spring Ale is named for Little Hump Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands. As part of this partnership, the organizations participated in a hike to Little Hump Mountain on May 20th as well as this habitat restoration project on Little Hump
So, why are we doing this habitat restoration work?
SAHC received a Wildlife Conservation Society grant to create this habitat around the margins of Little Hump Mountain. Early-successional wildlife habitat is associated with several wildlife species in decline, including the Golden-winged Warbler. Over the last 37 years of monitoring across its U.S. range, the Golden-winged Warbler has declined by 3.4% per year. The Golden-winged Warbler is a priority species for conservation, and can be considered an “umbrella” species when managing for habitat. Management that benefits the Golden-winged Warbler will benefit a suite of other species.
Golden-wing populations are threatened by habitat loss due to forest succession (trees growing older into a closed canopy forest), habitat loss from development, and hybridization with a closely related bird species, the Blue-winged Warbler. The Highlands of Roan has a concentrated population of Golden-winged Warblers that nest around the grassy balds of Little Hump, Bradley Gap, and Hump Mountain as well as the fields and farms nestled in the valleys below these mountains. Around the Southern Appalachians, Blue-winged Warblers are rarely found over 3,000 feet in elevation. Due to the relatively high elevations of early-successional habiat around its valleys and mountains (3,200-5,000+ ft), the Roan may act as a future genetic stronghold for Golden-wing Warbler populations.
SAHC hopes to create more of this important habitat around the Roan Highlands and maintain as much existing habitat as possible. While mature forest is beautiful and important in its own right, it is critical to have a mosaic of habitat types across a landscape. Many mature forest wildlife species also utilize early-successional habitat, especially during juvenile stages of development, which makes the Highlands of Roan such an ideal location for this work. Depending on the location and elevation, grassy balds and valley meadows may blend into northern hardwood, spruce-fir, or beech gap forest. SAHC is working along the edges where these two habitat types meet, called an ecotone. Rather than fragmenting areas of mature forest, we thin the forest edge to widen this ecotone. Through this work, we hope to add habitat acreage for these threatened wildlife species and continue protecting the unique ecology of the Highlands of Roan.
A Day for Work and Play
While the habitat restoration crew worked on the mountain, SAHC staff also led a small exploratory expedition for three young adventurers on Little Hump and Big Yellow Mountain. They inspected the high elevation grasses of the balds for insects and other animals, climbed boulders, and greeted hikers along the Appalachian Trail. These kids really enjoyed their first trip to the Highlands of Roan, and their first steps along the AT.
Following the work day, volunteers enjoyed views from Big Yellow Mountain and then camped in SAHC board member Jay Leutze’s field at the Yellow Mountain Ranch. Jay was kind enough to invite everyone into his house for dinner, where we enjoyed a great potluck meal and sipped Little Hump beer provided by Highland Brewing Company. Everyone worked hard, which made the beautiful afternoon weather and fellowship even more enjoyable. A huge thank you to everyone who volunteered and to Jay for being such a great host!