Posts Tagged With: Highlands of Roan

7-acre Carvers Gap Inholding Protected

horner4At the end of December we purchased a 7-acre inholding surrounded by protected land just below Carvers Gap in the Highlands of Roan. The tract adjoins an SAHC preserve and Pisgah National Forest. Although small in acreage, it was a high conservation priority because of its location and visibility from the Appalachian Trail at Round Bald and Jane Bald.

“People often ask if SAHC has a minimum acreage requirement for land protection projects,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This is an excellent example of a small property with large conservation benefits.”

horner3“Surrounded by permanently protected land, these seven acres were essentially an ‘inholding’ — the type of property people seek out for private residential development,” continued Pugliese. “This tract was the closest unprotected land to Carvers Gap, the public access to the Highlands of Roan and the Appalachian Trail. In buying this property, we carry forward our organization’s roots of protecting the Roan and preserving views from the Appalachian Trail.”

horner2Dominated by northern hardwood forest, the tract rises to an elevation of 5,220 ft. and has 435 ft. of road frontage on Highway 261, the route to the Carvers Gap parking area. The property lies within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area and the state-designated Roan Massif Natural Area. Two tributaries of Johns Camp Branch flow through the parcel; Johns Camp Branch empties into Fall Creek, which is classified as High Quality Waters and Trout Waters.

“We are deeply grateful to Fred and Alice Stanback for making a generous contribution which made this acquisition possible,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “Our purchase of this tract means that one more critical piece of the Roan landscape will never be developed.”

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A Bird House Workday

volunteergroupFor college students during the exam season, late November and early December can be riddled with stress, anxiety and wary nerves. Many students find that breaking from long hours in the library to spend time outside, for a breath of fresh air and a pause from the stress,  can actually boost effectiveness when they do return to their books.

The Environmental Science majors who came out to volunteer with us this month believed in this strategy. In the midst of stressful finals, ten students went up to our Bird House cabin at Grassy Ridge in the Highlands of Roan for a volunteer workday. Lead by Travis Bordley, our new AmeriCorps Roan Highlands Outreach and Volunteer Member, the group worked to improve Golden-winged Warbler habitat.

volunteerwork2Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) are a neo-tropical, migratory songbirds that overwinter in Central and South America. In the summer months, these birds return to the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains; they particularly enjoy our land at Grassy Ridge. GWWA prefer young shrubby habitat or regenerating forest edges. They also move quickly to mature forest after fledging, so the high elevation open areas of this property – surrounded by hundreds of acres of conserved forest – provide perfect habitat. GWWA have suffered an extreme decline in population over the past half a century. They have one of the smallest populations amongst species not on the endangered species list. We strive to preserve habitat for this and other species in our landscape.

 

volunteer2Our ten generous volunteers  worked with weed eaters and clippers to knock back overgrown black berries bushes that surrounded our Bird House cabin, and then collect and pile the cut branches into three large brush piles. Such brush piles provide optimal areas for GWWA to breed and forage. The work was also effective in distracting the volunteers from stressful circumstances.

 

“With everything going on in the world lately, I  really enjoyed being able to volunteer with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy,” said Iyana Quinn-Cuffie. “A sense of helplessness is a common feeling I get these days. So, having the ability to go out and have such an immediate impact on something like the Golden-winged Warbler and its habitat gave me a deep joy.”

 

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Jay Leutze, President of our Board of Trustees, couldn’t stay out of the fun when he heard about the workday. Jay was deeply moved and impressed by the effective volunteers, stating, “You hear a lot of cynical talk about the “millennial” generation. You can throw all of that out the window when you see a group of young people giving up their weekend to improve habitat for a species some of them had never heard of before the workday.”

 

volunteer1Jay spent time around the fire with the group after the work was done, further explaining the importance of conservation, thanking the group for their hard work, and wishing them luck on their impending exams.
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Big Rock Creek Donation

bigrockcreekmapInspired by our conservation work in the Highlands of Roan, landowner Ken Davis recently donated 47 acres to SAHC. The property adjoins Pisgah National Forest and our Big Rock Creek preserve, which we purchased in 2014, thus filling an important gap in the protected landscape.

Visible from the Appalachian Trail, the tract contains important forest habitat and headwater resources. Forest types include Appalachian hemlock hardwood forest, Appalachian oak forest, and southern Appalachian montane pine forest. The property contains a portion of Dave Branch stream and a headwater stream for Big Rock Creek, which flows into the North Toe River. These waterways are designated Wild Trout Streams by the NC Division of Water Quality.

Fred and Alice Stanback made a generous gift to support transaction costs and long-term stewardship of the donated land. We plan to own and manage the property as a preserve for the long term.

Landowner Perspective: Ken Davis

kendavisKen Davis bought this property in 1991 after several years of service as a park ranger. He and his wife settled in the area to teach at Lees-McCrae College. His motivation in purchasing the property was driven by a love of parks, and the couple have worked to reestablish native species on the property to allow it to return to its natural state.

“I decided to donate the land because SAHC represents a trans-generational effort by courageous people who love the land as much as I do and use the best conservation science they can muster to arrest the destruction of magnificent places of refuge,” says Ken.

“As has been illustrated many times in history, wilderness has been a most effective refuge. Though some of the land in this area of the Southern Appalachians is suitable for farming and other activities, I believe the best use for much of it is what it once was — wilderness. Due to the loss of many species, such as the chestnut, it can never be exactly the same, but some of it can become once more a sublime refuge. When asked what the steep, “unbuildable” land is good for, I often reply that it is good for ‘howling wilderness.’

I hope that our donation will provide a one-inch increment of the thousand-mile journey to return to wilderness in the Southern Appalachians. “        

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Big Yellow Mountain

This acquisition continues our conservation efforts in the stunning Roaring Creek Valley area, near Big Yellow Mountain and Little Hump Mountain. Photo courtesy Southwings.

This acquisition continues our conservation efforts in the stunning Roaring Creek Valley area, near Big Yellow Mountain and Little Hump Mountain. Photo courtesy Southwings.

We purchased 70 acres on Big Yellow Mountain in the Highlands of Roan, located just 2,500 ft from the Appalachian Trail. Adjoining Pisgah National Forest, conservation lands held by the State of NC, and other SAHC-protected properties, the forested high-elevation tract is visible from the Overmountain Shelter on the AT.

“This acquisition was a high conservation priority because of the property’s location on the biologically sensitive and stunning scenic slopes of Big Yellow Mountain near the Appalachian Trail,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese.  “It was the highest elevation, privately-owned unprotected tract between Grassy Ridge and Bradley Gap.”

The property contains forest habitat and boulder fields with seeps and springs that feed into Roaring Creek.

The property contains forest habitat and boulder fields with seeps and springs that feed into Roaring Creek.

Elevations on the property range from 4,440 feet to 5,380 feet above msl.

It contains rare beech gap forest and high elevation boulder fields with seeps and springs that form headwater tributaries of Roaring Creek. The entire property is within the state-designated Big Yellow Mountain Natural Area and the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. Nesting Golden-winged Warblers have been identified in areas surrounding the tract.

In addition to protecting high elevation habitat and clean water sources, this acquisition helps preserve the sense of solitude for hikers and backpackers in the Roan.

bigyellowmap“The tract is very visible from the Overmountain Shelter on the AT,” continued Pugliese. “This 2-story, red barn shelter is one of the most iconic and beloved of all the shelters along the Trail, and it would have been devastating to hikers’ experiences if homes were built on this land. Now that SAHC has purchased these acres, that will never happen.”

We are deeply grateful to Fred and Alice Stanback for making a generous contribution which made this acquisition possible.

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Round Bald Kiosk Installation

Volunteers prepare the kiosk site.

Volunteers prepare the kiosk site.

The Highlands of Roan are home to some of the most unique and globally rare ecosystems in the world, including montane grassy balds and spruce-fir communities. The Highlands are also one of the richest repositories of biodiversity in the southern Appalachians and support many rare plant and animal populations, including both state and federally-listed species. SAHC and our partners recognize that as recreational uses in the Roan increase, so does the importance of educating users about environmentally conscientious hiking and camping practices. Last summer, SAHC and our partners took a step toward doing just that by building an educational kiosk at the entrance to the Trail on Round Bald, near the popular Carvers Gap access.

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Inserting the educational posters.

The construction of this kiosk was made possible by the cooperation of many partners. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Tennessee license plate grant program provided SAHC with funds for purchasing the bulk of building materials. The US Forest Service, Pisgah National Forest constructed the kiosks, and the Cherokee National Forest created the posters. Eastman Chemical Company donated Spectar© UV-resistant plastic to cover the posters. The final installation and gravel work was completed by volunteers from SAHC and Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club.

We hope the kiosk will be a helpful educational resource and we look forward to working with all of our partners on future educational projects in the Roan!

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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 pauline@appalachian.org 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.”

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Broad Branch, in the Highlands of Roan

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This 48-acre forested parcel, which was previosly slated for development, is now permanently protected.

Located less than 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the 48-acre Broad Branch tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and contains a broad mix of habitat. We acquired it in December, and plan to own and manage it for long-term forest health and water quality.

“This tract shares a nearly one-half mile boundary with Pisgah National Forest,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It certainly earns the description of ‘highlands,’ with elevations exceeding 4,500 feet where it joins the National Forest.”

Located within the state-designated Roan Mountain Massif Natural Area, the tract is forested with mature trees and potential habitat for rare plant and animal species. Approximately 75% of the property falls within the Roan Mountain Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch runs through the property, emptying into the trout waters of Big Rock Creek.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch runs through the property, emptying into the trout waters of Big Rock Creek.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch orginates in the adjoining Pisgah National Forest and flows through the property, emptying into Big Rock Creek (classified as Trout waters by the NC Division of Water Resources). SAHC will complete a biological inventory and protect the water and forest resources.

“The tract was slated for development,” continued Pugliese, “but SAHC was able to work with the developers to purchase the land for conservation.  It’s a great example of conservation serving as a viable alternative to an unrealized development.”Located less than 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the 48-acre Broad Branch tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and contains a broad mix of habitat. We acquired it in December, and plan to own and manage it for long-term forest health and water quality.

What is the Roan Mountain Important Bird Area?

 

Gray Catbird, photo by Witt Langstaff, Jr.

Gray Catbird, photo by Witt Langstaff, Jr.

Important Bird Areas (IBA) are designated areas of state, national, or global importance, which are prioritized for conservation because they provide critical habitat for threatened, endangered, or declining bird species. The Roan Mountain IBA has among the great diversity of birds in the NC and TN mountains. To date, 188 species have been recorded, 31 of which are high priority species.

On a short, late-morning visit to the Broad Branch tract, Roan Stewardship staff recently heard Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird, Gray Catbird, and Red-breasted Nuthatch — as well as three birds on the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture conservation priority list: Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, and Eastern Wood PeeWee.

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Looking Back: June Jamboree 2015

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the June Jamboree this summer! As we prepare to bid adieu to our Project Conserve AmeriCorps Conservation Education and Volunteer Associate, Kana Miller (whose 11-month service term ends next week), we’d like to share her account from the day:

“Organizing the June Jamboree was like the grand finale of my experience with SAHC; it tested all the skills I’ve honed leading the outreach program. With five different hikes in one day on the Roan Massif, and close to 100 people participating, it’s a big event to organize — but for me, this year’s June Jamboree proved to be nothing but rewarding!

June Jamboree is our annual day of free, guided hikes and social gathering in the stunning Highlands of Roan.

The Breakdown – This Year’s Hike Offerings:

Hike #1 Ed Schell Memorial Hike – From Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Hike #2 Birding Hike with Simon Thompson

Hike #3 Roll n’ Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Hike #4 Salamander Scavenger Hunt

Hike #5 Challenge Hike

 In addition to coordinating all the hikes and hike participants, I also led the Challenge Hike. A fairly new tradition, the Challenge Hike is notorious for being a long hike (12 + miles) with strenuous route and rewarding, beautiful views. This year’s Challenge hike was no different – I planned a 15-mile trek across the Appalachian Trail and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

A break in the clouds provided the rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Roan is known for.

A break in the clouds provided rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Highlands of Roan are known.

I was eager to get on the trail as we gathered at Hughes Gap, and I could sense the rest of the group was, too. We had a long day ahead and thunderstorms threatening to hit Carvers Gap in the afternoon. After a brief introduction and safety talk we took off on the Appalachian Trail, heading up Beartown Mountain and Roan High Knob, a 3-mile climb with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. It was early in the morning with a cool breeze as we headed silently up trail, enjoying the newly routed section of the AT. We could see where the trail originally went straight up the mountain and were thankful for the new, gentle curves along the contours and switchbacks. It didn’t take long for folks to splinter off into groups with different hiking speeds as we tackled the long climb.

After about two hours, the group made it to the top and the highest point along our route, the old Cloudland Hotel Site and Roan High Knob. We took a break here and could already tell the mountain was alive with visitors. During this break, we ran into our staff representative on the Roll n’ Stroll, SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. While a brief encounter, it made June Jamboree feel like a close-knit community event – it was rewarding to see my hard work and coordinating come together!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

Although Roan High Knob was the highest point along our route, we had only traveled a few miles. We sped right through Carvers Gap and continued up Round Bald to get away from the crowds. Dark clouds were lingering on the horizon. My worst nightmare seemed like it might come true – getting stuck in a thunderstorm on the open balds. The clouds were rolling right over the grassy balds and folks were getting hungry. We pushed on to Engine Gap, making our way to a sunny spot out of the clouds. A lunch break seemed to be exactly what the group needed to re-energize. With a map highlighting SAHC properties in the area, I spoke about SAHC’s involvement in protecting and managing the Roan Massif before we made our way back on trail.

The Ed Schell Memorial Hike, from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge, made their way down Jane Bald just as we were heading up. It was awesome to run into this group, especially since it constituted the biggest hike of the June Jamboree and had the presence of many current and former board members. As a light sprinkle began, I couldn’t help but notice that despite raincoats and clouds blocking our views, everyone was smiling and talking about  enjoying the great day. The excitement and camaraderie on trail was exactly the pick-me-up I needed to motivate our group and power through the second half of our route. We made it past Grassy Ridge, Elk Hollow Ridge, the Stan Murray AT Shelter and onto Yellow Mountain Gap in good time.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

Although we still had about 4 miles to go, the trail junction at Yellow Mountain Gap was an important one. Yellow Mountain Gap is the four-way intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and also marked our turn off of the AT. We had 11 miles under our feet and food and drinks awaiting us at the end of Hampton Creek Cove! Folks took a break as I gave a brief history of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. We were standing on the border of Cherokee National Forest, before rapidly descending into Hampton Creek Cove. The trail was overgrown and steep, but still very beautiful. We hiked though dense hardwood forest, crossing several small streams before popping out into cow pasture.

The Challenge Hike celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer. Cheers!

The Challenge Hike group, celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer from our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partners at Highland Brewing Company. Cheers!

A slow drizzle started up as we finished our 15-mile day. We had endured a long, but fun, day of hiking. Our group was welcomed with ‘hoots and hollars’ as we made our way to the post-hike social. A delicious spread of fruit, crackers, cheese and refreshing beverages awaited us. Then the sun came out and a peaceful, rewarding sensation came across me as I sat back and relaxed. The day was done; June Jamboree 2015 was a success!”

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NPCA/Nature Valley Work Day

Around 33 volunteers offered services for the workday.

‘Thank you’ to the 33 volunteers offered services for the workday!

We hosted another successful volunteer workday in the Highlands of Roan, made possible by a generous grant from the National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley. Funding from this partnership has helped us accomplish land stewardship projects over the past several years.

Organized by our AmeriCorps Project Conserve Stewardship Associates and Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, 33 gracious volunteers gathered to get their hands dirty on our National Trails Tract.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

 

After a brief introduction from Executive Director Carl Silverstein and Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation  Association, who manages the corporate relationship with Nature Valley, teams split up to hear safety talks and get to work on several critical projects on the property.

The main objectives of the workday centered around the vision for the tract to be used for hiking and camping enjoyment, and its capability of providing excellent habitat for the threatened Golden-winged Warbler.  One team of volunteers improved a scenic area near the property entrance, removing dilapidated and rotting structures to enhance the beauty of a picnic spot next to rushing Roaring Creek.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Also working to improve visitor accessibility to this gateway property, three teams of volunteers tackled a much-needed trail-rerouting.  The pre-existing trail loop, which leads to a breathtaking waterfall, contained gravel sections that were degraded and steep. The trail was unsustainable and eroding quickly.  With loppers and digging tools, the Nature Valley work crew re-routed a section of trail down a more gentle slope with a more sustainable tread.

Another team helped control some non-native, invasive plant species to enhance the quality of breeding habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. The beautiful sweeping meadows and mosaic of scrub and early successional habitat on the property naturally provide suitable habitat for these threatened neotropical migratory songbirds.

The crew enjoyed lunch in a meadow overlooking a scenic view of the surrounding landscape, including several other tracts that SAHC has helped to protect.  Trustee Jay Leutze highlighted major land protection efforts and successes in the area as everyone enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.  Later, volunteers enjoyed hiking to the incredible waterfalls on the property to end a successful day.  It is our hope that visitors and Golden-winged Warblers alike benefit from the workday for years to come!

National Trails Tract

The aptly-named National Trails Tract is a gateway to the Roan area and central to an expanding network of conservation lands.  It is highly visible from the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (which traces the route of patriot militia through VA, TN, NC & SC).  Because of the property’s connection to such important historic and scenic trails, its notable conservation values — pristine wild trout waters, bird habitat, and adjacency to Pisgah National Forest — it was identified as a high priority for conservation.  SAHC purchased the 113-acre property in 2008 to protect it from development and later transferred 73 acres to the state  of NC, retaining

40 acres for long-term management.

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Wild Hogs invade the Highlands of Roan

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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?

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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

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