Conservation Field Journal

Feral Hogs in the Roan — Update

Hog damage on Big Yellow. Feral hogs destroy fragile habitats and threaten the health of native species and ecosystems in the Roan.

Hog damage on Big Yellow. Feral hogs destroy fragile habitats and threaten the health of native species and ecosystems in the Highlands of Roan.

SAHC and our Roan Stewardship partners met in summer 2014 to discuss the growing threat posed by the invasion of feral hogs into our mountain landscapes and how to combat their spread. These non-native animals threaten the health of our ecosystems including impacting rare species, destroying fragile habitats, and contaminating water sources. Since then, we and our partners have made important strides in addressing the issue of feral hogs in the Roan.

“Working with our partners, including USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Wildlife Services (APHIS), we began initial monitoring and trapping efforts on the Roan in winter 2014,” said Crockett. Those efforts were quite successful — hogs were documented, trapped, tested for disease, and removed from both Mitchell and Avery counties. A number of trapped hogs tested positive for either Swine brucellosis or Pseudorabies.

Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett investigates feral hog damage.

Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett investigates feral hog damage.

“Feral hogs can spread disease to humans, our pets, and livestock,” added Crockett.

About the same time that SAHC and our partners began coordinating efforts in the Roan, the problems caused by feral hogs gained national attention. In 2015, APHIS received federal funding to implement a collaborative, national feral swine management program in all 39 states where there is a recognized feral swine population.  The overarching goal of this APHIS National Feral Swine Damage Management Program is to protect agricultural and natural resources, property, animal health, and human health and safety by reducing feral swine populations in the United States.

“APHIS will reduce problems by suppressing populations in states where feral swine populations are large and widely distributed,” explained Crockett. “In States where feral swine are emerging or populations are low, APHIS will cooperate with local partners to implement strategies to eliminate them.  SAHC’s existing, multi-agency partnerships in the Roan qualified us to submit the Roan Highlands project for consideration under the new APHIS program.”

SAHC is working with a variety of partners in the regional Roan Feral Hog Working Group, to monitor and address feral hog impact in the Highlands of Roan.

SAHC is working with a variety of partners in the regional Roan Feral Hog Working Group, to monitor and address feral hog impact in the Highlands of Roan.

Our submission was approved for 2015-2016, and the Roan Highlands project is now up and running.  We have more than 12 agencies and organizations (and several private individuals) actively contributing to trapping, monitoring, and research efforts on the Roan — including USDA APHIS (North Carolina), USDA APHIS (Tennessee), Pisgah National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina State Parks, Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (natural areas), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Nature Conservancy, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Virginia Tech.

In 2016, SAHC will continue to coordinate the Roan Feral Hog Working Group and support trapping and monitoring work. We hired Kaitlin Shannon, an intern from UNC Asheville, to install and check wildlife cameras for hog activity, and we are partnering with students from Virginia Tech and other universities to study hog diet and movement on the Roan.  This year, we will also work with our partners to focus on educating landowners, farmers, hunters, and recreationists about the dangers and impacts posed by feral hogs.

“By using a large-scale, multi-agency approach, we hope to eradicate this destructive species from our mountains,” concluded Crockett.

Want to Learn More?

Educational Program: “Feral Hogs in the Roan Highlands — Impacts, Ecology, and Eradication Efforts

SAHC will host a free, public presentation on feral hogs in the Roan on  Wednesday March 9 from noon – 1:30 pm at the Kingsport Renaissance Center (Room 228), 1200 East Center Street, Kingsport, TN 37660.

Join us as Marquette Crockett, SAHC Roan Stewardship Director covers the history, basic biology, and environmental impacts of invasive feral hogs at the regional and local level. Joined by Scott Dykes of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, she will also discuss how SAHC, along with our state and federal partners, are using a large-scale, multi-agency approach to eradicate this destructive species from the Highlands of Roan.

This educational program is free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged. Please respond to Pauline at or 828.253.0095 ext. 216 if you plan to attend. Bringing your lunch is encouraged. 


Perspective – On the Roan with Roan Stewardship Intern Kaitlin Shannon

Kaitlin Shannon experiments with natural camouflage as she helps install and monitor wildlife cameras to track feral hog activity.

Kaitlin Shannon experiments with natural camouflage as she helps install and monitor wildlife cameras to track feral hog activity.

“As a current student at UNC Asheville, it has been my pleasure to serve an internship with SAHC. In May I will complete my B.S. in Environmental Studies, with a concentration in Ecology and Field Biology. For me, this internship has been a segway from the classroom into the hands-on approach of conservation field work. I worked in conjunction with graduate students of Virginia Tech and members of APHIS to design a study to monitor feral hog populations in and around the Roan Highl

ands. It’s been my job to hike to the specified locations and set up wildlife cameras to detect the presence of hogs — which is important because once we have noted where the majority of the hog populations are located, we can more effectively plan to remove them.

I’ve gained experience with so much more than simply helping to design a study. Most importantly I’ve been able to surround myself with the land that SAHC works so diligently to protect. It’s clear as you ascend to the peak of Big Yellow that you’re standing in a very special, sacred place. The damage caused by these hogs cannot go unnoticed, and I am honored to be apart of a team working to mend such an important place.

SAHC is such a unique land trust and I encourage anyone who is curious about the work that they do to take the time to volunteer.”

Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Volunteer & Stewardship Activities | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Hogs invade the Highlands of Roan


Invasive wild boar, caught on candid wildlife camera.

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).

What is a feral hog?

The invasive wild boar are hybrids of escaped Russian wild boar.

The invasive wild hogs are hybrids of feral hogs and escaped Russian wild boar.

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.

What are the impacts of invasive feral hogs?


In addition to destroying fragile ecosystems and native species, these invasive hogs carry diseases that can infect domestic livestock and humans.

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.

What can we do?

Invasive hogs can be especially aggressive when defending their young.

Invasive hogs can be especially aggressive when defending their young.

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.

Hiking Safety Tips – What do you do when you see a wild hog?

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.

  • Be alert! Know the signs and tracks of hogs and avoid heavily used areas, especially at dusk or dawn when hogs are most active.
  • Avoid water sources that have been used by invasive hogs – humans can contract multiple diseases from water sources contaminated by hogs and their feces.
  • Hogs will generally try to avoid contact with humans, but may become aggressive if surprised, especially if piglets are present.
  • If you encounter a hog on the trail, re-route your hike to avoid them. If a re-route is not possible, keep a safe distance and wait for the hogs to leave before continuing.
  • If faced with an aggressive hog, the best option for protecting yourself is to climb the nearest tree.
  • If directly charged by a hog, you should quickly sidestep out of the direction of the charge and climb the nearest tree or boulder.
  • If using a firearm to protect yourself from a feral hog, ensure that it has enough knock-down power to be effective (otherwise it may be best to avoid the encounter and move to safety instead).
Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tales from the Bird House


View from the Bird House, perched in a high elevation meadow.

Earlier this year, we welcomed a series of interns and researchers to the cabin at our 601-acre Grassy Ridge tract in the Highlands of Roan, dubbed ‘the Bird House’ because of the ubiquitous winged wildlife in this rich upland habitat. Lee Farese, one of our first visitors to the cabin, spent several weeks observing and photographing the tract. He recently shared this account of his stay…

The Bird House perched in a high elevation meadow.

The Bird House at Grassy Ridge.

I arrived at Grassy Ridge one afternoon with a singing Junco and two hawks circling out over the barely-spring hills quiet and gray. The small red house sits amid blackberries on an east-reaching spur out from the ridge, looking out over Big Yellow, Grandfather, back to Little Yellow and Grassy Ridge Bald. The porch looks south over Martin’s Branch, over the hardwood hills still bare in late April but rich with the promise of budding maple and the white ghosts of sarvis. Jay leaves at dusk and I sit awhile on the porch with the guitar left for me, soon to be welcomed by a woodcock.

In the morning I am woken by yellowthroats, towhees, sparrows in the brush. The thrasher is on his beech branch and beginning his rough singing, and there is a thrush in the distance. Somewhere in the woods the thudding of a grouse.  It is cold, though, so I return to the cabin after a while, build a fire, drink tea, play guitar and wait for the day to come.

gr_9I take the day to feel my new home—stray down the creek to find ramps and wake-robins, spring beauties, anemone, wander up to the ridge with juncos and towhees for perspective and to meet the land. Down below in the hollows there is a faint blush of spring, but up here the season is still asleep. Walking down, though, the promise is voiced: two Black-throated Blue Warblers buzzing in the maples. I am eager to sit and wait and watch this season come, to listen closely to the out-breath of spring.

Lee at his red porch post.

Lee at his red porch post.

For three weeks I kept my red-porch post, sat with thrasher, warbler, sparrow and wren and watched how the world wakes up—watched the pears leaf out and break down into clouds of white bloom, watched the first Golden-wing come to the nearby beech. My only goal was to pay attention, “our endless noble work,” for “how can one help but grow wise with teaching such as these?” I watched the Phacelia erupt and the spring beauties fade, the sarvis light up on the opposite slope. Seeking to lend myself to a place, and to lend myself to spring, which felt like a season of ceaseless hope.

gr_3Along the way I kept note of the coming. Each morning the woods would be graced by some new voice—Ruby-throated hummingbird on the 23rd, Ovenbird and Black-throated Green Warblers on the 24th, Grosbeaks and a Black-and-white the 25th, Chestnut-sided and Golden-winged Warblers the 26th. “Spring is the time of endless distraction”, and more often than not books would lie forgotten, swept aside by song.  Mornings I would walk Jerry’s Creek or Martin’s Branch, finding newts, salamanders, and always more in bloom. Squirrel Corn, Trilliums, Anemone, Trout Lilies, Violets, Phacelia, Larkspur, Showy Orchis. In the evenings the Barred Owls would keep the chorus, sometimes joined by a Saw-whet and once by a moonstruck Field Sparrow.

gr_14This was my vigil. On cold mornings and evenings (and there were many) I tended and readied the cabin, sat reading by the fire, played music. Mostly I just watched, though, let myself sink into a place and let myself be filled by the music of the woods in spring. In the evenings I would take my dinner on the edge of the porch, and where I had a standing date with the cottontail who slept her days beneath the house, and I would wait for the woodcock’s beent! and “sky dance”.

gr_6I left Grassy Ridge a much different place from mid-April—the hills glowing with maple, buckeye, the swelling buds of beech; thirteen species of warbler filling the young woods with song. The first ephemerals beginning to fade, the woods were full with Solomon’s Seal and Larkspur, Foam Flowers and Sedum. Just before leaving Jay and I walked up to the Big Meadow above Jerry’s, where Pipits lifted from the tall grass like a chattering mist.

gr_8I am indebted to Grassy Ridge, as I am indebted to all the places I have let myself fall into. For three weeks I sought to be a citizen of it, to engage with its music and bear witness to something truly remarkable that slips beneath our gaze most days. And what can I do now but give voice? There is something incredible happening here, just waiting for a listening ear and an open eye. “And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here.”

Categories: Conservation Field Journal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

All A-swarm: Wild Honeybees Find New Accommodations on Our Community Farm

Disturbed wild honeybee swarm on the farm.

The other bees gather around the queen to protect her.

From our blog posts earlier this year, you may have already gathered that we have A LOT going on at our Community Farm in Alexander, NC. Last week, we added one more aspect to this multifaceted project site — beekeeping. Farm intern Yael Girard came across a disturbed wild honeybee swarm while out scouting the planned route of our interpretive trail. Luckily, Yael had the experience and equipment to act quickly to save the colony. Here is her account of the day:

“Lost in the reverie of walking through the wooded property at the SAHC Community Farm, I may not have noticed the swarm had I not walked directly into it. I came into a clearing and found myself in the eye of a bee hurricane. The recently disturbed queen had not yet found a place to land, and the other bees were chaotically following her around the open space.

Queen bees are not the best flyers, being quite a bit larger than the workers and drones, and will usually try to limit their time in the air. Since she is the very life force of the hive, the rest of the bees will rush to protect her. When she landed, I watched the other bees surround her to form an undulating pendulum on a nearby tree branch. Once this buzzing blob had been established, the bees were fairly docile and hesitant to move. With their home destroyed, they sent out a few scouts to find a new location, but this can take some time. On a temperate day in late September with nights that fall into the fifties, and with no established hive and no honey stores, they didn’t have much of a chance at survival.

Setting up the new accommodations for the bees.

Setting up the new accommodations for the bees.

Yael suited up for bee rescue.

Yael suited up for rescue.

Since I had some experience with keeping an apiary, I decided we might be able to save the colony if we put them into a man-made hive. This can be a challenging process because you are dealing with thousands of individual creatures that act as a unit. The goal is to move the group as a whole without the queen flying away; once the queen goes, the whole swarm goes.

When handling my hive at home I rarely wear the standard bee keeping equipment, but given the fact that I was not familiar with the behavior of this hive, I suited up. This consists of long sleeves, long pants, a netted helmet, and gloves. If you swat at the bees or crush them inadvertently, it can set off a chain reaction of territorial aggression — This is bad for you and for the bees. You may end up with numerous stings and each bee that stings you will die, since its stinger will usually be left behind along with some of its organs. When handling bees, it is important to stay calm and move slowly and deliberately to minimize the stress to the group.


Relocating to the hive box.


Enticing them into the hive box with a bit of honey.

In preparation, I set an open Tupperware tote under the hanging swarm, to serve as an in-between receptacle for transporting them to the hive box.  I gently grabbed the branch, snipped it, and lowered the whole thing into the bin. Then I put the lid on as quickly as possible and duct-taped it shut to avoid any intrepid bees from making a getaway and/or stinging me while I carried the bin up to the new home site.

We set up the new hive on the edge of a beautiful hayfield with picturesque sunsets, a nice breeze, and access to lots of forage. Having a clear flight path and plenty of nearby flowers and water will give the bees a much better chance of survival. Unfortunately, after being jostled and jumbled a quarter mile, the swarm was not in the happiest mood. So, when I opened the box, the queen made a run for the nearest tree. After they recreated the blob formation, I was able to cut the branch and then introduce them into their new home. As an added enticement, I dripped some honey from my hive onto the frames. Despite some confused flying around, the majority seemed to get the idea and pile into the hive. The best part is that no one was stung in the process.

Success - the hive's new home.

Success – the hive’s new home.

This is a difficult time of the year for a colony to be without a home. Usually the bees would have built up honey stores throughout the summer and would be have no trouble surviving a winter without foraging. However, our bees have lost all their hard work in the move and, therefore, we will need to assist them through the winter.  I have taken several frames from my hive that are mostly full of honey and several where the comb is drawn out to get them started.  In addition, we will cook a syrup of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water and feed them until spring. With a little luck, we might be able to sustain them until the flowers start blooming again and they can survive on their own. It is exciting to think that someday there may be SAHC Community Farm Honey from this wild hive.”

Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Farmland Preservation Program | 6 Comments

Inspired by Salamanders on Jim’s Branch

(Narrative and photos courtesy of Tom Ward)
teyahalee (salamander)As a child I first came to appreciate the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains on hikes up the family property with my Grandpa. My grandparents would often let me go out on my own and hike up Jim’s Branch turning over river rocks or flipping decaying logs looking for salamanders & snakes. I could find a Dusky (Desmognathus fuscus), Black-bellied (Desmognathus quadramaculatus), Two-lined (Eurycea wilderae) or other species of salamander under almost every other rock, though catching the big ones long enough to identify them was quite a challenge.
Up at the top of the mountain where Jim’s Branch just starts to flow from the ground, larval Spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyritcus) with their fanning gills are found. Occasionally I would find a bright red adult in the sphagnum moss. In decayed logs I would often find the slimy salamanders (Plethodon teyahalee). On humid summer nights shining a flashlight on the old rock walls around the cabin all sorts of critters could be found in the cracks, including three species of plethodon salamanders (Plethodon montanus, Plethodon yonahlossee & Plethodon teyahalee).
yonahlossee (salamander)Finding a Yonahlossee was always the treat as they were less frequent and had the colorful red back. This childhood exposure to natural diversity inspired me to later get a master’s degree in ecology. I still find that the opportunity to have an afternoon to hike around and explore this property makes me feel so alive.
This property has been in my family for over 85 years and five generations have been able to appreciate its beauty. I am very appreciative of my parents and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for working together to preserve this beautiful land. The Swanannoa Mountains are a unique and isolated range that is under increasing development pressure. I hope the preservation of this property will inspire other land owners and preservation agencies to preserve as much of this natural heritage as possible so that there will always be natural creeks and woodlands where kids can explore and discover their connections to nature.
Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Land Protection Updates | Leave a comment

Invasive Species Awareness Week

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week!

April 1 to 7, 2012

Many of us look forward to spring’s arrival as the best time to watch the forest reawaken after winter as wildflowers gradually begin to bloom.  But Spring also stirs to life a host of invasive, non-native plants which compete with our native wildflowers and trees for essential resources.  Invasive, non-native plants reduce biodiversity, disrupt native plant-animal associations, and alter natural regimes and cycles (such as fire and hydrology).  Invasive species are said to impact nearly half of the species currently listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act.

Most of us are unaware of which plants are invasive and which are not, or the ways in which invasive plants like oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose and garlic mustard threaten our region’s biodiversity and natural heritage.  That is why, in 2011, Governor Beverly Perdue declared the first week of April as North Carolina’s First Invasive Plant Awareness Week.

SAHC plans to honor the week by posting information about invasive species in our area. We are also hosting three public work days throughout the month to tackle invasive species and other management priorities on some of our high quality properties in Buncombe County’s Sandy Mush Valley. Check out our outings & events page to join us!

multiflora_rose_thornMonday’s Invasive Species Spotlight:
Multi-problematic Multiflora Rose

This is a great time to talk about multiflora rose because if you go on a walk through the woods this time of year, thickets of multiflora rose are easy to see from far away.  They are one of the first understory shrubs to leaf out in the spring, so they appear as bright green patches in an otherwise grey-brown forest. They are lighter in color than the evergreen rhodo and mountain laurel.  And, if you don’t see them in the places you like to roam, that’s a good thing because they are invasive and nasty!
Multiflora rose was brought from Asia to the US in the 1860s to serve as rootstock for ornamental roses.  It was later promoted for a variety of uses: erosion control, fencing, crash barriers on highways, and wildlife shelter and food.  The problem with multiflora rose is that it forms impenetrable thickets that clog up stream banks and wetlands and displace native understory plant species. It’s unforgiving thorns can seriously dampen your spirits when you encounter a thick patch of it blocking your way as you walk through the woods!  Multiflora rose spreads easily because birds eat the fruit and disperse their seeds everywhere.  An individual shrub may produce 1 million seeds annually!

What you can do: Practice invasive plant control on your own property by eradicating invasive species or preventing seed production by pruning or cutting.  You can distinguish multiflora rose from other rose species by its upright arching stems and fringed stipules. You can also join us this Saturday, April 7th, as we work to eradicate the rose on a wildflower-rich property in Sandy Mush.

princess tree.jpgTuesday’s Invasive Species Spotlight:
Princess Tree (a.k.a “A royal pain tree”)

Have you driven west on I-40 or along our rural roads and noticed trees with large brown nut-looking capsules and fuzzy orange buds (with purple trumpet flowers and large elephant-ear leaves during the growing season)?  That’s princess tree…and its becoming increasingly easy to find.  That’s because each capsule produces thousands of tiny, winged seeds that travel easily in the wind.  Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) establishes easily in disturbed areas and can grow up to 15 feet in a year!

Princess tree is native to China, where it is said it is planted when a baby girl is born. The tree matures as the girl does, and when she marries, the tree is cut down and the wood is crafted into items for her dowry.  That’s a romantic story, but the tree is the protagonist of a much less romantic story here in the southeastern U.S.  Just see what portions of Linville Gorge look like post-fire, where princess tree seedlings are out-competing all the native tree species.  The end of that story doesn’t look so good for those of us who value biodiversity and functioning ecosystems.

PATO capsule.jpgWhat you can do:  Observe the growth habits of the plants you choose for your home landscaping. If you notice you have rapidly growing plants that produce copious seeds, learn more about that particular plant species to be sure it is not considered invasive in your region.  Some good native alternatives to princess tree include: eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), umbrella tree (Magnolia tripetala), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), and yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea).  Note: if you plan on removing any princess trees from your property, make sure to check for resprouts next year!

Wednesday’s Invasive Species Spotlight:
Wicked Weedy Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is native to Europe, but can now be found throughout much of the U.S. and the world. It was first documented in the U.S. in 1868 in Long Island, NY. It is said to have been cultivated for its medicinal and culinary uses. Garlic mustard is a biennial plant, which means it grows over a period of two years. The first year it produces a clump of leaves that stay close to the ground. The second year it sends up a tall stem, flowers, and then finally seeds. A single plant can produce hundreds of seeds that easily scatter many feet from the parent plant.

Garlic mustard has a strong, gGarlic Mustard Pestoarlicky odor, but what really stinks about it is what it does to the forest floor once it gets a foothold. It creates conditions that are favorable to its own existence, while simultaneously creating unfavorable conditions for many other plant species. Garlic mustard is allelopathic, which means it produces chemicals that get into the soil and inhibit the mycorrhizae other plants depend on to grow. Even some butterfly species suffer because when they mistakenly lay their eggs on garlic mustard, the eggs and larvae fail to survive.  Deer and other herbivores don’t like garlic mustard, either, so they leave it to flourish, preferring to nibble on other plants, which further compromises native plant populations.

Don’t worry…there is a bright side to this sad story.  Wild animals may not like garlic mustard, but several humans have said it’s quite tasty! And it is relatively easy to pull and control. So, we’re headed out this Saturday, April 7th, to banish it from a pretty piece of land in Sandy Mush, and we’re bringing recipes and the camp stove with us to cook it up along with some other wild (and not-wild) edibles! We could use a few extra hands, so you are welcome to join us… (please RSVP to, (828) 253-0095, ext. 212, if you are interested.)

(Photo: garlic mustard pesto from

Thursday’s Invasive Species Spotlight:
Tree of…Heaven?  I don’t think so!

Tree of HeavenTree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) was first brought to the US from China in 1784 by a gardener who thought it would make a nice ornamental planting.  The idea caught on and by the 1840s, it was widely available in nurseries and commonly planted as a street tree.  It arrived separately to California during the gold rush, by way of Chinese immigrants, who used the tree medicinally to cure everything from mental illness to baldness.

However, before long, the tree began to lose its celestial reputation. Tree-of-heaven is a prolific seeder and fast grower–one study states that it is the fastest growing tree in North America! It can tolerate very poor soils and pollution, full light and partial shade, and sends up new sprouts easily.  It forms dense thickets and produces allelopathic chemicals which inhibit other plants from growing. Therefore, you’ll often see homogeneous stands of it growing along roadways, which is the perfect way for it to spread.

“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”
—A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Tree of Heaven LeafTree-of-heaven has another shortcoming that has helped it to lose favor: many people think it stinks of “burnt peanut butter.” I think it smells like Cheerios. In Chinese its name means “stinking spring.” Smell is one way you can identify the tree. It is important not to confuse it with other native trees that have similar compound leaves and/or habitats, such as sumac, walnut, or pecan. You can distinguish the tree-of-heaven by the shape of the leaflet. Each leaflet has one or more glandular teeth along the lower margin (edge), but otherwise the leaflet margin is entire (lacking teeth).

What you can do: Try to use regionally native plants when deciding what to grow in your garden and around your home. Native plants are already well-suited to the area and rarely get out-of-control. Consult someone you trust who knows the native environment in which you live to match the right plant to the right site conditions.

Friday’s Invasive Species Spotlight:
Chinese Silvergrass

Chinese Silvergrass close upChinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a tall, densely-bunched, perennial grass you will often find growing along roadsides.  It grows 5-10 feet tall and produces showy, feathery, silver to pink plumes in early fall. The grass remains standing year-round. These characteristics have made it a frequently-used ornamental planting; however, it easily escapes landscaped areas and will readily establish itself in disturbed areas, such as roadsides, field edges, and areas that have been burned.  While it prefers full sun, it will grow in sparsely forested areas and openings. Like many of the other invasive species mentioned this week, it produces thousands of wind-borne seeds and can resprout from pieces of rhizomes.

The problem with Chinese silvergrass is that it forms dense infestations which displace native vegetation and can create large monocultures that alter natural ecosystem functions. While some humans might find it attractive, wildlife doesn’t have much use for it.  Even worse, it is highly flammable, and therefore, poses a great fire hazard where it is found.

Chinese silvergrass long viewChinese silvergrass is still widely used as an ornamental planting and several cultivars with different names exist in the horticultural industry.  Therefore, it is important to refer to the plant by its scientific name, Miscanthus sinensis. You may hear that other species or varieties of the genus Miscanthus are safe to plant because they are not invasive, or because they have been bred to have sterile seeds, but be wary!! It is very hard for plant sellers and distributors to be 100% certain of such claims.

What you can do: Buy nursery-propagated plant material from reliable growers. If the exact identity of the plants you buy is uncertain, avoid it or seek the advice of other authorities. Consider using the following native alternatives in your own landscaping projects: big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switch grass (Panicum vergatum), or Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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SAHC Expands Habitat for Endangered Bat

The Virginia big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii) is an endangered bat that only lives in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Virginia big-eared bats prefer caves in karst regions (areas underlain with limestone bedrock and many caves and sinkholes) dominated by oak/hickory or beech/maple/hemlock forest. These bats usually hibernate in tight clusters near entrances of caves that are well-ventilated and where temperatures range from 32 to 54 degrees F. In summer, maternity colonies are found in the relatively warm parts of caves.

Human disturbance is probably the biggest factor contributing to the decline of these bats. Disturbance during hibernation causes bats to lose stored fat reserves, and repeated disturbance can cause the bats to die before spring (when insect prey are again available). If female bats are disturbed during the maternity season, they may drop their young to their deaths or the whole colony may abandon a roost for a less suitable location.

SAHC expanded the bat’s habitat in the Highlands of Roan with the recent purchase of the 136-acre Views at Cranberry tract, located within one half mile of the Cranberry Iron Mines tract on which the NC Wildlife Resources Commission holds a 200-acre conservation easement in order to protect this endangered creature.

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SAHC Takes Flight: Aerial Photographs of Some Protected Properties and Surrounding Areas

SouthWings, founded in 1996, is a conservation and public benefit aviation non-profit that provides skilled pilots and aerial education to enhance conservation efforts across the Southeast. The following are aerial photographs taken from a SouthWings plane during an SAHC monitoring visit. Click the SouthWings logo above to learn more.

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Full Funding Sought for Land, Water Conservation Fund

Jay Leutze, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy board member and strong advocate for conservation in our region, wrote this editorial for the Asheville-Citizen Times. Comment and continue the discussion about the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund gaining full funding to strengthen conservation efforts that preserve clean water, working farms, scenic  places, and unique plant and animal habitat and in turn strengthen our economy.

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