Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC   James Smith
  Mar 11, 2007 00:42 PST 

I had occasion today to take a hike into the Bluff Mountain Preserve in
Ashe County. This is a Nature Conservancy site and you have to go
through them to hike there and also hire a NC guide. We met up with our
guide, an arborist, and he took us to the mountain on a very enjoyable
and educational hike.

We passed through several rare plant communities, including a mesic
glen, an old-growth hardwood grove, an old-growth hemlock grove (all
Carolina hemlocks), and one of only two fens in the Southern Appalachian

Apparently, the Nature Conservancy's tack on hwa is to "let nature take
its course". They're not going to do anything to combat hwa beyond
monitoring the deterioration of the groves in their care. Hemlock wooly
adelgid was recorded on Bluff Mountain for the first time in 2006, but
it has yet to reach the stands of Carolina hemlocks on the ridgelines. I
found the hemlocks there to be free of the bugs.

The old growth groves on Bluff Mountain are not of champion caliber size
due to the extremes in weather there. But the hardwoods have been cored
and many are in the 150-200 year-old range. The oldest hemlocks cored
are 300+ years-old.

We had a great time on this hike, and I recommend it to anyone
interested in these forest types. Of course the hikes are tightly
regulated by the Nature Conservancy and no bushwhacking beyond the
narrow trail corridors is allowed.

I posted a few photos of the glen, the fen, and the old hemlock groves
(mainly along a tremendous escarpment) at Webshots. You can see it here:
Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC UGHHHHH   Will Blozan
  Mar 11, 2007 15:01 PST 


Great shots! What a serious BUMMER on the TNC's response to HWA. Exactly
what does "nature conservancy" mean? Surely they would realize or recognize
that management of these sites is not limited to pulling weeds.

Sounds like the exquisite Carolina hemlock in the wild will be virtually
extinct as an ecosystem. Carolina hemlock bluff forests are truly unique and
endemic ecosystems that will not be replaced by similar species. Because of
the southern locations of the groves HWA will completely eliminate them.
With such a catastrophic prognosis I am appalled that the managers of these
"preserved" forests can ethically sit back and monitor the elimination of
the species from the southern Appalachians.

Next week I will looking at the southern-most known grove of Carolina
hemlock bluff forest on earth. The state of South Carolina is going to treat
it in its entirety. This means rappelling down the cliffs to save the trees
and hiking (with gallons of water) to these remote areas. It is an epic
effort but one that I believe is well worth the effort. Obviously, SC
believes it is worth the expense to save this last vestige of a forest type.
The site is also known for the petroglyphs and natural rock shelters used by
Native Americans. I can only assume that this site was important to the
native peoples even though devoid of water and dangerous to access.

RE: Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC   Joshua Kelly
  Mar 11, 2007 15:52 PST 


I've heard Bluff Mountain touted as "the most biodiverse mountain in the
Appalachians". Over 700 species of vascular plants have been recorded there.
I think that the amphibolite mountains and other areas with unusually rich
bedrock would be great study sites for ENTS.

I wasn't aware that another "Southern Appalachian Fen" had been located.
Any indication about where it is? I've heard that some of the bogs at
nearby Long Hope Creek are fen like, but hadn't heard they had been
classified as such. I had heard that a second "High Elevation Mafic Glade"
had been located on Phoenix Mountain - those are still some ridiculously
rare and localized natural communities. I'd like to hear more about the
northern hardwoods forest from Bluff - did you take any notes on species
composition or tree diameters? Thanks for the report.

RE: Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC UGHHHHH   James Smith
  Mar 11, 2007 17:53 PST 

That's good to hear that SC is taking an aggressive attitude toward
treating these rare groves. I don't understand how the Nature
Conservancy can consider an alien introduced past as "nature taking its
course". It's insane. I don't think it would take that much in funds to
treat those groves along the 300-foot escarpment. They are 100% Carolina
hemlock. No canadensis in there at all. You would need some folk adept
at rappelling and rock climbing, but it could be done. In addition,
there is a hefty amount of water available in the stream that tumbles
down the escarpment, so lugging lots of water in wouldn't be an issue.
RE: Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC   James Smith
  Mar 11, 2007 18:07 PST 

The other fen is also owned by the Nature Conservancy and is located at
Celo, below Celo Knob in the Black Mountains. It's not as high as the
one on Bluff Mountain. One amazing thing about the fen that I noticed
was that it was unbelievably quiet there. Easily the quietest place I
have ever been. I let the rest of the group push on and got permission
to hang back to enjoy the silence alone. It was astounding. You'd have
to go there to hear what I mean.

I am woefully ignorant when it comes to identifying tree species. I
missed my chance to learn them at the side of my dad, who knew every
Southern tree by sight (leaf, bark, nut or seed). He tried to teach me
when I was a kid, but it went in one ear and out the other. I was too
busy seeing the forest instead of the trees. Alas.

However, the oldest trees apparently are Red oaks, white oaks, and
locust (I think that's what Munroe said). Lower on the mountain, the
forest is dominated by sugar maple (not old growth, but recovering
forest about 90-100 years old). The forest below 4200 feet is over 50%
sugar maple. Saw lots of hornbeam and yellow birch, also along the

The old growth trees are not of impressive girth. They're twisted old
trees, gnarled by cold and lots of ice apparently. Our guide took us
through a grove that had trees cored to be over 300 years old (the
Carolina hemlocks) and 150-200 years old (hardwoods).

Acid rain is beginning to be a major problem there, with even the heath
plants showing stress from it.

Apparently the Nature Conservancy and the State of North Carolina just
closed a deal to protect Phoenix Mountain.

I didn't take any measurements of any trees. You have to stay with the
group at pretty much all times and any detouring off the largely
single-file trail is discouraged. (They even have an outhouse at the
trailhead to keep folk from crapping on the ridge.)

The resident steward of the peak is an arborist (Doug Munroe), so he may
be open to some of you professional ENTS folk attending a hike with an
eye toward taking some measurements. Just don't mention that you want to
treat the hemlocks for hwa. I did argue with him briefly about this, but
as he was a nice guy and leading the hike, I didn't push it.

RE: Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC UGHHHHH   Will Blozan
  Mar 11, 2007 19:25 PST 


I would do it in a heartbeat if given the chance. The last job I did in SC
that involved rappelling was the highlight of my career. I have not yet
found a forest finer than that of a Carolina hemlock bluff- with ravens
squawking, the wind whistling and tweaking the twigs into gnarled
masterpieces, and the views over the landscape. I have recently determined
that when my time comes I want my ashes to be spread in the shade of a
Carolina hemlock perched on a precipice with a good view and a raven as
caretaker. This is likely just a dream since they will be long gone before
that time comes.

Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve, NC   

The Bluff Mountain Website by TNC is at:  
Nature Conservancy reply   James Smith
  Mar 14, 2007 15:24 PST 

I wrote a letter to the Nature Conservancy about the Carolina hemlock
grove on Bluff Mountain and suggesting that they do something to save
it. I received a brief reply from their main office (VA) informing me
that they are going to battle hwa. I was given another contact to get in
touch with a field agent to speak to about specific actions they are
going to take. I'll let you know what I learn.

For what it's worth, here's the letter I wrote to them:

Recently, I had occasion to hike with a guide at a Nature Conservancy
site. I noticed the virgin groves of Carolina hemlock growing on a rocky
bluff and asked the Conservancy guide about plans to protect these trees
from the threat of Hemlock wooly adelgid. He informed me that the Nature
Conservancy policy was to "let nature take its course" and just allow
the trees to succumb.

Considering that hwa is an introduced pest and is hardly a part of the
natural orders of things in eastern North America, I don't think it's
fair to refer to the threat as nature taking it's course.

Does the Nature Conservancy have any plans to treat any of the groves of
Eastern and Carolina hemlocks on its properties with the injected form
of adelgicides. It seems bordering on criminal to allow these groves to
die off, perhaps become extinct, when they can be saved as botanists and
bilogists work to come up with a way to control the adelgid.

I would be willing to donate time and effort to help treat Conservancy
groves with the adelgicides necessary to save them from hwa. Do you have
any plans to do so, or was the guide correct in telling me that the
Conservancy is going to stand by and allow the groves under its care to
die off?

Thanks for your time. Sincerely,

James R. Smith
Matthews, NC.