Experts Focus Attention on Planning Spruce Restoration in North Carolina's Black Mountains

Written By

Of the fifty highest peaks east of the Mississippi, 48 are in the Southern Appalachians. These are home to red spruce and Fraser fir – cold weather trees naturally found nowhere else in southern Appalachia. Indeed, Fraser fir is found nowhere else in the world.

A team of federal, state, and private natural resource experts heads into the backcountry of North Carolina's Black Mountains to examine a potential red spruce restoration site and discuss restoration strategy.

These conifer forests were once more widespread, but have suffered – from unsustainable logging and subsequent forest fires around the beginning of the twentieth century, and in more recent times from acid precipitation and an invasive insect – the balsam woolly adelgid.

Aaron Flannery, North Carolina State Parks, and jess Shaner, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, study a high elevation forest in North Carolina's Black Mountains

However, there is a team working to restore these forests. A recent day saw some of the region’s brightest conservation minds from organizations like the U.S. Forest Service and North Carolina Natural Heritage Program walking a trail through the Black Mountains north of Asheville, ironing out the mechanics of how to restore red spruce –talking through scenarios of planting nursery-raised trees or knocking back competition so existing spruce trees can flourish; and how to ensure the community’s imperiled species like the Carolina northern flying squirrel and spruce-fir moss spider aren’t harmed in the process of improving their habitat.

The Black Mountains will hopefully see on-the ground efforts like those underway at other high-elevation areas in the region.

Matt Drury, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Chris Kelly, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and Sue Cameron, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studying digital maps of North Carolina's Black Mountains
Shawn Swartz of the Forest Stewards Guild stands amidst a high elevation forest in North Carolina's Black Mountains, considering a strategy for restoring red spruce to the forest.
Vista from the southern end of Mount Mitchell State Park