Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks   Will Blozan
  Dec 14, 2003 10:27 PST 

ENTS Report 12/13/03

Yesterday Jess Riddle, Ed Coyle, Mike Riley and I went into the unsurpassed
tall hemlock forests of the East Fork of the Chattooga River in the Ellicott
Rock Wilderness (SC section). We braved an impending ice storm, a swollen
river crossing and ice covered logs. A traverse was set up with rope and
pulley to get the gear across the river. We went to climb a tree Michael
Davie and I measured two years ago after we climbed the "East Fork Spire", a
167'10" tall eastern hemlock that was a new World Record height (living
tree) for the species. The new tree (still unnamed) measured 168'11" based
on laser-clinometer measurements. Our measurements before the climb
yesterday still indicated a height of 168'11". Ed broke in his new equipment
and got a height of 168.92'. I got a height of 168.95' with my gear. Not
bad! We calibrated on the "Medlin Mountain Monarch", a massive tree climbed
in 2001 and taped to 161'10". Ed got 162' and I got 162.07'. Again, not bad!

So up we went! The tree was 11'4" in girth and the tape drop indicated a
height of 168'9". A new World Record!. Upon the calculation and seeing our
ground measurements were only 2 inches off, Ed said, "Why do we bother to

Well part of the reason is in the title of this email. This tree and every
other in the grove is essentially dead. This was the last climb of the last
tall hemlock in the grove. The hemlock woolly adelgid has destroyed the
grove and some trees are completely defoliated and dead. The Medlin Mountain
Monarch, which was climbed just two years ago with no obvious sign of HWA,
is now a partially defoliated, gray ghost of it's former luscious glory. We
are documenting these great trees down to the very inch of growth literally
on the eve of the death. We are also looking for answers to nagging

Can eastern hemlock reach 170'? I would have to say, absolutely, but not any
more. The last growth increment on the tree climbed yesterday was 7 inches
long. The top and every other tip on the tree is now dead. This tree and the
East Fork Spire would have been 170' within three to five years, if HWA was
not a factor. I don't know how tall they would have grown to, but the tops
of these trees were arrow-straight and vigorous, with no sign of slowing
down. Unfortunately, we will never know. Eastern hemlock is a clear example
of a species lost in it's prime.

Time is out, folks. The great hemlocks of the southern Appalachians will
likely be just a historical anecdote in a few more seasons. At least,
because of ENTS, the history will be accurate and truthful.

Will Blozan
President, Eastern Native Tree Society
ISA Certified Arborist
east_fork_climb_dec13.jpg (46545 bytes) The attached photo is a composite taken December 13, 2003. The foremost tree is the one we climbed and taped to 168'9", and has Ed Coyle beside it. The next tree is a 155'+ tree with Jess Riddle beside it. The farthest tree is a 160' tree with Mike Riley beside if. Dead center in the picture (between the left and middle tree) is the bole of the East Fork Spire which was taped to 167'10" in 2001. I want to get a better photo of this grove before the trees decay... Will Blozan
RE: Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks   Paul Jost
  Dec 14, 2003 10:48 PST 


It isn't often that one reads a message like that. The hemlock height
is incredible, especially in what was a vigorously growing tree! The
accuracy of the initial measurements is also very satisfying to hear.
However, going from such a high to the premature death due to HWA was a
real let down. It is really crushing to know that my beloved hemlocks
will likely disappear from this earth. I hope that my grandchildren
will have a chance to see them, but they will probably never know the
immense grandeur of the southern Appalachian hemlocks. They may only
know the smaller statured midwestern hemlocks, if those hemlocks can

Paul Jost
Re: Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks
  Dec 14, 2003 12:50 PST 
Will, Jess, Ed & Mike,
Sorry I was not up to the challenge yesterday. If I was, the river fording
would have been down my alley. Besides having crossed raging jungle rivers
full of bull sharks, I designed and supervised the building of an obstacle course
that featured several different rope bridges.

I'm glad the rain held off (or did it?) long enough to make a successful
climb to the top of the "world's tallest eastern hemlock" (one of my all-time
top-ten favorites). It's rather sad that we may never see this species reach
170'. All of this just reinforces my two earlier arguments; (1) that exotic pests
and loggers are likely to locate and kill the very best showing of a species
before the rest of us ever get a chance to personally appreciate their
grandeur, and (2) do we really know just how tall a given species once reached?

As more news is leaked out about the existence of such trees, "maybe" more
research dollars will be appropriated. Though the chestnut blight was an
anomaly, it nonetheless shows us just how important our roles are by involving the
public (who has the money) as much as possible. I don't want to just "read"
about some great tree that I was never privileged to personally see, touch, feel
and taste. Nor even do I want to be one of many eyewitnesses who spent the
rest of their lifetimes reminiscing about what such & such a species meant to
them. I want my grandchildren to walk into their backyard and experience it
for themselves! If education doesn't have a role in what we do, then we can
always apply for a job as a museum custodian, long after these species are
extinct and we're out of a job. A tree cannot "gasp". But we can, and stand in
proxy for them. Let our gasps be heard by as many as possible!
Re: Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks   Michael Davie
  Dec 14, 2003 14:54 PST 

Well, it's truly horrible to learn of the impending death of those beautiful
hemlocks. The speed of their death is also very discouraging to hear. I'm
just thinking of all the places I've been seeing HWA over the last couple of
years, and what's going to happen to those trees... All the more reason to
get out and document what we've got left.
I've got a few pictures of the East Fork Spire climb I'll send to Ed to
post to the website.
Re: Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks
  Dec 14, 2003 19:02 PST 

I don't think we should count the Eastern Hemlock out yet. 5000 years ago the
species disappeared from the pollen record yet somehow rebounded to the
majesty of the trees you and I enjoy today. Eastern hemlocks are one of my favorite
trees and it will sadden me to watch them decline probably at about the same
pace as I will over the next four decades or so. But despite all the human
shortsightedness and ignorance there is still a lot of beauty in this world.
Maybe your grandkids will not get to see these amazing hemlocks but there will
still be many other beautiful things out there that you can teach them to enjoy,
love and respect.

I think it is not unlikely that 5000 from now the hemlock will be rising tall
again and even if they do not other trees will grow to take their place and
the ecosystems around them will adapt beautifully to those changes as they
always have. Hopefully we will learn to adapt also so our descendants will be
around to enjoy the hemlocks return as we do today.

I have just arrived back out west in Tahoe where a fresh foot of snow covers
the mountains and jeffries pines. A thousand feet or so above my new home
there are stands of western hemlock bowing under the white powder. I do not find
these wispy, scraggly looking trees as appealing as their eastern cousins but
they are still beautiful in their own way and growing nearby are forests of red
fir trees with massive trunks and deep red bark that remind me of old eastern
hemlocks. It is still a beautiful world out there! We just need to help
others slow down long enough to recognize it.

Re: Last gasp of the East Fork hemlocks
  Dec 14, 2003 19:41 PST 
In a message dated 12/14/2003 10:03:50 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
I think it is not unlikely that 5000 from now the hemlock will be rising tall
Even though we won't be around to see it (at least not in the present form),
I hope you're right!   But there were unlikely exotic pests and development
here back in 3,000 B.C. When the same creatures that harvest the earth's fruit
introduce new species to the cocktail, what is brewed may not be fit for
consumption. But until 7,003, let's us well manage the trust granted us and enjoy
the fruits of our labor.

Tahoe sounds like a beautiful area. That lake, as well as Crater, has filled
many of my dreams. We just had a conference there, but I was unable to
attend. Hope to make it in the future. I understand the water visibility is now
136'! I thought western hemlock were not native to the Tahoe area.

I grew up near a large glacial lake (East Grand) on the Maine/New Brunswick
border. The shores are littered with home-size granite boulders, and it's
clear, cold waters are full of trout and salmon. In the winter, one can easily
listen to a conversation a mile or more away. Many a day I ice-fished at
Whitehorse Reef and Billy & Nan Islands. It was near Whitehorse that I once hooked
a lake trout that could not be landed. Though we battled for 1 1/2 hours, I
eventually had to yield to the more worthy fighter. Was it 30, 40 or 50
pounds? We'll never know. Some trophies, though never landed, seem to grow larger
with time.