Friday, May 4, 2012

Our National Parks Are Being Remodeled By Invasives

An article appeared May 3rd on the website Tennessee Journalist a publication of the School of Journalism for the University of Tennessee.  The article written by Marion Kirkpatrick is entitled Great Smoky Mountains National Park due for a Facelift.  The reader will find an outline of some of the changes occurring in the Park due to the impact of invasive species such as the hemlock wooly adelgid and the great efforts that will be going into protecting stands of these magnificent trees in the Smokey Mountains.

The hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) is a devastating insect that came to our country from East Asia.  These almost microscopic devils suck the sap from hemlock trees leaving them standing needless skeletons.  The HWA was first noted in Pennsylvania in 1967 and since that time has become well established in our Eastern forests where it is decimating both the Carolina and Canadian hemlock stands throughout the Southern Appalachians.  Just take a short trip along the Skyline Drive or Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia to see this devastation first hand.

Foam like residue of the hemlock wooly adelgid one fo the first signs visible of infestation

I first met the hemlock wooly adelgid in 1986 when a seasonal park ranger working for me in the James River area of the Blue Ridge Parkway found signs of the insect on several hemlock trees.  He had studied this pest in a forestry class at Virginia Tech.  We reported this information to our Park Headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina and to the local US Forest Service offices.  As the information went up the food chain it became quite apparent that no one was concerned about HWA along the Blue Ridge.  The US Forest Services Forest Health scientists at that time told us that since hemlock is not considered a cash producing tree there was little or no research or work being done to protect the species from HWA.

At the field level we were quite surprised and dismayed to see this reaction and it was not until entire stands of hemlocks, that prefer nice cool wet coves, started to die did people begin to realize the impact.  For today instead of seeing impressive groves of cathedral like ceilings of woven conifer shading meandering streams, people are finding the sun shining through naked limbs intertwined as if hoping to hold each other erect.  The result is a loss not only of beautiful views and setting for the human eye but a change in temperature of mountain streams once the home to trout and many other species.

I am disappointed that back in the mid ‘80s we could not get officials more concerned about the hemlock wooly adelgid.  Now knowing more about the insect and seeing the devastation it leaves behind I am not sure how much of a difference we could have made.  I am encouraged that at least an effort is going to be made to help protect the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and I wish them the very best of luck.  I hope that years from now although I may not be able to walk among hemlocks here in Virginia, but perhaps I can travel to the Smokey’s to relive the past.  

Link to Tennessee Journalist Article:


  1. I remember the beautiful hemlocks beside the cabin at Humpback Rocks. They were so beautiful and provided such nice shade. It just doesn't look the same without them.

  2. Yes I agree. We did try hard to save those two trees and tried several methods of insect control to no avail. While I was still working I was promised that once those trees had to be removed that some other species would be planted to take their place. As far as I know that never happened and the Humpback Cabin site is no longer protected by shade in the summer months.