Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Dying Hemlock Tree(s)

I had heard about the Hemlock Pine trees in the mountains here dying out a few years ago, but had never really seen the damage, the reality of what was happening till moving here to Hot Springs, NC. Here at the Luck Cabin (and throughout the adjacent forest) there are scores of big HUGE old growth Hemlocks, and many smaller ones too - all dead or near death, falling down to the ground in piles, families of barren trunks, groves of up-turned roots.
I was told by an Old Timer neighbor that when the bark starts pealing off and shows this red color pictured here, it means it will soon fall to the ground. Another neighbor said after it's death, due to shallow roots, they will fall over within one year of dying.
The impact is much more apparent when you are standing in the forest surrounded by dead trees - from the spot I took these pictures, in a heavily, dense wooded area I counted approximately 20 dead Hemlocks from where I stood.

""The future of the species is currently under threat due to the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), a sap-sucking bug accidentally introduced from East Asia to the United States in 1924. The Adelgid has spread very rapidly in southern parts of the range once becoming established, while its expansion northward is much slower. Virtually all the hemlocks in the southern Appalachian Mountains have seen infestations of the insect within the last five to seven years, with thousands of hectares of stands dying within the last two to three years. Attempts to save representative examples on both public and private lands are on-going. A project named "Tsuga Search", funded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is being conducted to save the largest and tallest remaining Eastern Hemlocks in the Park. It is through Tsuga Search that Hemlocks have been found with trunk volumes of up to 44.8 m³ within the Park, making it the largest eastern evergreen conifer, eclipsing in volume both Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) and Pinus taeda (Loblolly Pine).""
Under these giant dead trees are the young new sprouts, of tiny hemlocks - ones that looks free of the disease. One thing about the forest is it knows how to renew itself... the sucky thing is, we have yet to begin to understand what the impact of losing old growth trees has on the eco system. There may be some lag time between now and like, say 200 years from now when these can right themselves again. Then again, before recorded history I have to wonder how many times species were wiped out and no one would ever know about it now... if these things are part of natural life cycles, we call disasters?
""A 2009 study conducted by scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station suggests the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing hemlock trees faster than expected in the southern Appalachians and rapidly altering the carbon cycle of these forests. According to Science Daily, the pest could kill most of the region's hemlock trees within the next decade. According to the study, researchers found that "hemlock woolly adelgid infestation is rapidly impacting the carbon cycle in [hemlock] tree stands," and that "adelgid-infested hemlock trees in the South are declining much faster than the reported 9-year decline of some infested hemlock trees in the Northeast.""
What do I plan on doing with all my dead Hemlocks? One thing I can not do is burn them, because the pine would clog up my wood stove pipe and catch it on fire ... I can use the smaller branches for good kindling though. I am hoping to get a portable wood mill out here and turn them into lumber for building. Other then that I am not sure what to do except watch the Hemlock graveyards house the bugs and birds and slowly decay, while the tiny new trees reach for the light.


Gratuitous said...

Don't forget, it's always okay to leave dead trees where they fall. They're mini-ecosystems unto themselves, providing food and shelter for many, many organisms.

Anonymous said...

Sad, but just another part of the cycle of life, I guess. As Gratuitous pointed out, now they provide homes for many other organisms who live on.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

I know it can make a new hoome, and decay into soil...but when you stand there surrounded by the dead trees, there is a really sad quality about the massive change in the forest.
WHat is really intersting to me, is that any species of bug, disease, parasite, etc kills off their host completely, and moves onto the next , wiping out the very thing they live off of...
what happens to that bug when all the trees are gone? Do they die too?
Doesnt make much sense to kill off your food source.

Panne said...

you make the bugs sound so human. by the time they kill all the conifers, they will most likely have evolved to feed on something else.

search homemade alaskan sawmill.

you may be able to barter some of the wood in exchange for cutting and sawing.

they would also make some nice enclosures for gardens and compost.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Hey Panne! Thanks for the info, I am going to go search the homemade saw mill!

Also, i like the idea of using them to made a composting bin, i need to make one anyway for the composting toilet waste when i empty it... and pine smells sooo good.

PS_ the bugs are so like humans - killing off their on food source.

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