Snapshot: Cutting Trees to Conserve One of America's Rarest Habitats

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Red maple is one of the most common trees in North America, and sometimes there’s a choice to be made between this common tree and some of the rarest plants and animals in the world.  

Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron reviews plans for the day's management work before the biologists disperse into the bog to begin removing problematic woody plants.

Southern Appalachian Mountain bogs are rare habitats scattered from North Georgia into Virginia. Most are small, easily missed by the untrained eye as one drives Appalachia’s rural roads. But they are key to diversity, providing a home to rare plants and animals including carnivorous plants and the bog turtle, North America’s smallest turtle and an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act. 

Staff from the Asheville Field Office carry equipment to the bog to begin the day's vegetation management work.

Bogs depend on the groundwater flowing through them, and many of the rare plants and animals found there depend on ample sunshine - for sun-loving plants to photosynthesize or a turtle to bask. Red maples and some other woody plants – both native and invasive – can be a double threat to the health of a bog – shading out the native bog plants, and taking up excessive amounts of water, slowly drying the bog. 

Service biologist Sue Cameron (L) joins N.C. Wildlife Resources biologist Gabrielle Graeter to clear maples. Graeter cuts the unwanted trees with a chain saw, while Cameron comes behind and applies herbicide to the stump to ensure it doesn't resprout.

This is a problem especially in a landscape where hydrology has been impacted by humans. Activities such as past ditching of wetlands or installation of wells can contribute to drying and give a leg up to woody species such as red maples, allowing them to easily invade bogs.

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Gabrielle Graeter lopping away at a thicket of woody vegetation.

A simple management tool to ensure the future of those turtles, carnivorous plants, and other bog species? Cutting maples and other plants whose shade threatens and whose roots are taking up water.  

Karla Quast, administrative officer for the Asheville Field Office, clears downed brush from the bog.

Service and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff recently turned out at an Alleghany, NC bog to cut back the encroaching woody plants, allowing the sunshine to enter and ensure the groundwater continues flowing.