Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Open Letter

As anyone who frequents this blog knows, I'm very concerned with the impending extinction of two of the most beautiful tree species on the east coast: the Carolina hemlock, and the Eastern hemlock (aka Canadian hemlock). I won't go into the details again, but it's something that can be helped, if only this nation's priorities were different. Over a year ago I hiked in an area of the South that has so far not felt the effects of the invasive pest that is killing all of our hemlock trees. One of the places where I hiked was a wilderness area in Tennessee that was formed partly due to the efforts of former Republican Senator Howard Baker. So I wrote him a letter making some suggestions concerning proposals that could help preserve the vast stands of hemlocks that remain so far free of infestation on the Cumberland Plateau in his home state. I never got any response. At any rate, here is the letter. Feel free to copy it, alter it (insert your own name) and mail it along to any elected official whom you feel may wish to act on the recommendations contained therein.

Fall Creek Falls State Park: vast tracts of virgin hemlock forests. Doomed if nothing is done to save them.

To the Honorable Senator Baker.

Honorable Howard Baker, Jr.
P.O. Box 600
Huntsville, TN 37756

As you are likely aware, the hemlock trees of the South are under threat of extinction due to the introduced insect pest Hemlock wooly adelgid (commonly referred to as hwa). I had the wonderful good fortune to go hiking this summer in the Bridgestone-Firestone Wilderness and in the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness and in Falls Creek Falls State Park. I know that your great efforts were instrumental in the preservation of the phenomenal wilderness areas in which I hiked.

I was heartened and delighted to see that the hemlock forests in the areas where I hiked were still healthy and had not succumbed to the infestation as they have in my home state of North Carolina. The hemlock forests in two of our most beautiful national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah have been virtually wiped out by this infestation.

There are some efforts afoot to stop the spread of this plague, but time is a problem. The only sure way to save a grove once the aphids have invaded is to treat it with an insecticide called Imadacloprid, created by Bayer. Treatment kills the infestation and ensures the survival of the trees until a further application that may become necessary in five years or so.

What I am proposing would be an effort manned by volunteers to go into the remaining healthy groves along the Cumberland Plateau to treat the hemlocks against these insects and preserve them until such time as a biological agent can be established to stop hwa. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would be willing and happy to supply the manpower to go into Tennessee’s hemlock groves to treat them with Imadacloprid.

I would further propose that some public funds be set aside for this effort. In addition, since Imadacloprid is based on a synthesized form of nicotine, perhaps some of our tobacco companies and farmers would be willing to help fund such a drive to save our native hemlock forests. How often do the tobacco farmers or cigarette companies have occasion to promote a positive aspect of a derivation of their product?

I am not saying the Imadacloprid is without its own critics, and I am not saying that it alone is a cure-all for the problem of looming extinction of our hemlock forests. But it is a way of giving our native hemlock forests the extra time they need to avoid oblivion. For that is what they are facing without such an effort: total extinction of both the Carolina hemlock and the Eastern hemlock.

For my own part, I am only a letter carrier for the US Postal Service who happens to love the forests of my native South. However, there are very educated and qualified scientists within the Eastern Native Tree Society who would be only too happy to devote their time and efforts and knowledge to implementing a mass drive to treat the hemlock forests of the Cumberland Plateau and thus save them from destruction.

Senator Baker, thank you so much for your very valuable time. Sincerely,

James Robert Smith


Steve Malley said...

We have a lot of trouble with invader-specied here in NZ too.

Good luck with your crusade!

HemlockMan said...

So far, no luck. The hemlocks are all dead from about Washington DC south to Georgia, and from DC west to about Gatlinburg TN. Spreading south and west from those points.

From infestation to complete death takes five years. About five years ago I started seeking out the virgin groves of hemlock forest to see them before they're gone. Most of the groves I visited in 2004 are now dead snags. We're talking about trees that were 400+ years old.

Of course the hwa doesn't stop there. It also kills the smallest new trees, too. So there's no stock to renew the species.

Yes, I've read much of New Zealand's problems. As an island ecology, it was especially susceptible to invasive species. I still mourn the fantastic bird fauna that fell to the Maori invasion.