Happenings among the staff of the Asheville Field Office
Field visits, findings, and milestones - steps on the path to conserving our rarest plants and animals

May 12

Invasive species clearing – Marsh dayflower, Murdania keisak, is a non-native invasive plant discovered at a Henderson County, NC bog. Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to help eradicate the plant from the site before it becomes well established. Thus far the strategy is based on periodic visits to the site to pull the plant and cover areas with tarps to block sunlight.

Henderson County habitat restoration visit – Asheville Field Office supervisor Janet Mizzi joined biologist Laura Fogo for a visit to the Pleasant Grove restoration project, on the banks of Western North Carolina’s French Broad River. The site was once slated to be the Seven Falls Golf and River Club development; however the development failed, the site was acquired by local land conservancy Conserving Carolina, and the Service provided technical and financial assistance to restoring the land through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. While on the site, Mizzi and Fogo helped plant live stakes - cuttings from larger trees that will sprout roots and grow into new trees when planted.

May 5

Sicklefin redhorse field work – The sicklefin redhorse, the focus of conservation efforts under a candidate conservation agreement, has concluded its spring migration, ending the burst of field work that accompanies the migration. Asheville Field Office biologist Jay Mays joined staff from Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, the Tennessee Valley Authority, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Duke Energy to collect sperm and eggs for captive propagation, and tagged several fish to help discern migratory movements and population size.

Kondyke community pollinator garden workday – Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins organized a community planting day at the Asheville Housing Authority’s Klondyke Community pollinator garden. The event, which brought out volunteers from the Klondyke community and local non-profit Asheville Greenworks,  was the latest in a string of events to install the pollinator garden. More than 500 plants are now in the ground at the site, which awaits a final layer of mulch for the year.

Ela Dam funding – The proposed removal of Ela Dam, on Western North Carolina’s Oconaluftee River, received a boost recently, as the Service committed $4 million toward the anticipated $10 million removal and restoration cost. The funds are from the Service’s National Fish Passage Program, with Ela Dam removal one of 39 projects across the nation to receive funding this year.

April 28

Rebekah Reid helping install a pollinator garden at the Klondyke Homes community, Asheville, NC.

Klondyke office workday – Several staff from the Asheville Field Office spent an afternoon helping install a pollinator garden at the Klondyke Housing Community, a community of the Asheville Housing Authority near the field office. 100 pollinator-friendly plants were installed in the garden, all coming from a pollinator plant bank established by Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins, local non-profit Asheville Greenworks, with support from Carolina Native Nursery. The workday was the latest in a series for the site, which has seen college students on an alternative spring break prepare the site and will culminate with community members installing the final plants in the garden.

Box Creek Wolfpen Trail – Asheville Field Office biologists Rebekah Reid and Mark Endries walked the route of the proposed Wolfpen Loop Trail, which will cross a portion of Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge easement lands in McDowell County, N.C.  The two walked the five-mile route with a contractor working on the trail’s design, with the outing resulting in requested reroutes to avoid rare plants and crossing onto adjacent property.  

Stevens Creek mussels – In the wake of partnering with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation on a stream restoration, the Service continues working with the county to help establish mussels in the restored reach. Asheville staff Jason Mays and Jeff Quast and South Carolina Field Office biologist Morgan Wolf recently joined Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation staff for the latest round of stocking common mussels in the restored reach in the hope that one day endangered Carolina heelsplitters can be established here. The Stevens Creek Nature Center and Preserve straddles Stevens Creek, which flows into Goose Creek, one of the last known places where you can find endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussels in North Carolina.

April 21

Visiting the Oconaluftee River reservoir – As momentum builds to remove Ela Dam on western North Carolina’s Oconaluftee River, engineers are in the process of developing the dam removal/site restoration plan. Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins joined consultants, staff from natural resource agencies, and staff from Mainspring Conservation Trust for a tour of the reservoir to identify and discuss potential engineering and restoration challenges to removal.

Roan Mountain boars – Roan Mountain, a U.S. Forest Service site on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, is home to four federally-protected plants and lichens – Roan Mountain bluet, spreading avens, Blue Ridge goldenrod, and rock gnome lichen. Asheville Field Office biologists Dr. Natali Ramirez-Bullon, who is the lead recovery biologist for all those listed plants, recently joined staff from the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, and other organizations to discuss wild boar management at Roan Mountain. Boars are not native to Southern Appalachian, and their rooting behavior disturbs soil and can directly harm listed plants.

New garden at the western North Carolina Nature Center – The Western North Carolina Nature Center, in Asheville, N.C. is installing a new pollinator and songbird garden. Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins helped their effort by providing 83 plants from a native pollinator bank he helped establish with local non-profit Asheville GreenWorks.

April 14

Biologist Jason Mays searches for noonday globe snails in the Nantahala River Gorge, Swain County, N.C.

Noonday globe snail – The threatened noonday globe snail is only found on the north-facing side of the Nantahala River Gorge. Asheville Field Office staff recently took advantage of the snail’s narrow survey window – early spring when snails are out but the foliage that would complicate finding them is still thin – to search for the rare snail. Many rare species are studied or tracked by university researchers, state biologists, or others, but the survey effort led by biologist Jay Mays represents the only tracking and data collection effort for this imperiled snail and has resulted in an expansion of the snail’s known range within the gorge.

Checking in on I-26 widening – The widening of I-26 on the southside of Asheville is a massive infrastructure undertaking, much of it running near or along the French Broad River, home to endangered Appalachian elktoe mussels, and used by endangered gray bats, while endangered northern long-eared bats use the adjacent forest. Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined staff from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, other natural resource agencies, and project contractors for a periodic environmental check-in meeting to address any issues that may have arisen during the course of construction.

Assisting NRCS – Asheville Field Office biologist Byron Hamstead has begun a detail with the Caribbean Natural Resources Conservation Service office. As an Asheville Field Office biologist, Hamstead consults on NRCS projects for impacts to threatened and endangered species, working with them to minimize or eliminate those impacts. While on his detail, he’ll be helping the Caribbean NRCS office with a backlog of several hundred consultations associated with emergency response activities, hopefully developing an approach that can help expedite the process and that could be repeated in a similar fashion, in North Carolina.

Improving infrastructure while protecting species on Roan Mountain – Roan Mountain, on the North Carolina/Tennessee line and traversed by the Appalachian Trail, is home to numerous protected species including Carolina northern flying squirrel, Roan Mountain bluet, spreading avens, and the spruce-fir moss spider. Though not heavily developed, it is heavily visited, and Asheville Field Office biologists Rebekah Reid recently joined Forest Service staff on site to discuss how to update a main water line at the site while minimizing any impacts to listed species.

April 7

Andrew Henderson and Bryan Tompkins work in the pollinator garden at the Service's Asheville Field Office.

Office garden workday – Staff from the Asheville Field Office kicked off the spring season with a morning cleaning the office’s pollinator garden to clear the way for the new growing season. Entering its third year, not only does the garden provide a showcase pollinator habitat, it has also become a source for plants used at several other pollinator gardens around Asheville.

French Broad fish translocation – Jay Mays, biologist in the Asheville Field Office, joined biologists from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to help translocate an array of sucker fish species, including host fish for the endangered Appalachian elktoe, from the Tennessee portion of the French Broad, upstream and around two dams to a North Carolina portion of the French Broad River.

March 31

Live stake planting – A stream restoration project on Possum Trot Creek, a tributary to Yancey County, North Carolina’s Cane River, approached its conclusion, as the Asheville Field office’s Laura Fogo delivered and helped local non-profit Blue Ridge RC&D plant live stakes along the streambank at the site. Live stakes are cuttings from larger trees that will sprout roots and grow into new trees when planted. The Cane River is home to the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel, making it a priority habitat for the Service, which provided funding for the project through its Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, with Fogo providing technical assistance.

Pinks Beds visit – The Pink Beds, on Pisgah National Forests, are one of the largest and most accessible of southern Appalachian bogs, and home to the threatened swamp pink lily. Asheville Field Office biologist Rebekah Reid joined U.S. Forest Service staff on site prior to a prescribed burn prescribed burn
A prescribed burn is the controlled use of fire to restore wildlife habitat, reduce wildfire risk, or achieve other habitat management goals. We have been using prescribed burn techniques to improve species habitat since the 1930s.

Learn more about prescribed burn
at the Pink Beds to ensure those working the fire were aware of the swamp pink and how to minimize potential negative impacts during the prescribed burn.

March 24

A tricolored bat in a metal culvert on the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest.

Tricolored bat hibernation site discovered - Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson discovered a new tricolored bat hibernation site on Pisgah National Forest during a site visit for a planned road improvement project by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Several subsequent surveys by the Service and partner resource agencies documented at least nineteen tricolored bats in six culverts made of metal, concrete, or even stone, which were closed at one end, mimicking cave conditions. The culverts are among the smallest in the state to host the species so far.

Bog site visits – Asheville Field Office staff met with Jake Tuttle and Carolyn Johnson, manager and deputy manager of Piedmont, Bond Swamp, and Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuges, for site visits and refuge planning. Janet Mizzi and Rebekah Reid joined the refuge leadership and refuge archeologist Rick Kanaski for a discussion on the potential installation of the Wilderness Gateway Trail across a portion of the refuge where the Service holds a conservation easement conservation easement
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property in the future. Conservation easements aim to protect habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial or commercial development. Contracts may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetland and establishment of game farms. Easement land remains in private ownership.

Learn more about conservation easement
; while Mizzi, Sue Cameron, and Gary Peeples joined Tuttle and Johnson for discussion and site visits focused on potential future parcel donations to the refuge.

Giving Appalachian elktoe a helping hand – Female Appalachian elktoe mussels, an endangered species, produce thousands of larval young each year, however only a tiny percentage of these survive to become reproducing adults. Asheville Field Office biologist Jay Mays recently joined biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to collect female mussels on the verge of releasing their larval young and bring them to North Carolina’s conservation aquaculture lab, in Marion, N.C., where the larval mussels will be raised in the safety of captivity before being returned to the wild.

Giving small animals a helping hand (and direction) – Asheville Field Office staff Laura Fogo and Sue Cameron joined biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at a western North Carolina farm where small animals like reptiles, amphibians and small mammals were getting hit as they traverse between two wetland segments bisected by a road.  Although there is a large culvert passing beneath the road that can provide safe passage, they weren’t always taking advantage of it, so the biologists installed fencing to guide the animals away from the roadway and toward the culvert, allowing them to safely move between the two sections of wetland.

March 17

Staff from the Service's Asheville Field Office maintaining chainsaws as part of the chainsaw user refresher class.

Chainsaw refresher – Five Asheville Field Office staff members were recertified in chainsaw use in a class led by Asheville biologist and chainsaw instructor Jason Mays. Sue Cameron, Mark Endries, Laura Fogo, and Andrew Henderson were recertified during the day-long session that included an office session on chainsaw maintenance and a field session on chainsaw operation. Chainsawing is a skill Asheville Field Office biologists use to clear Southern Appalachian mountain bogs of unwanted woody vegetation and to clear competition that may be inhibiting the growth of red spruce trees, a key habitat component for endangered Carolina northern flying squirrels.

Pleasant Grove restoration – Work is now underway at the Pleasant Grove restoration project on the banks of the French Broad River in Henderson County, NC. With technical assistance from Asheville Field Office biologist Laura Fogo and funding from the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the project encompasses a suite of activities, including stream and wetland restoration, and planting of pollinator habitat. The site of the failed Seven Falls Golf and River Club development, the land, once slated to have 900 residential units and a golf course, is currently owned by local land conservancy Conserving Carolina, which is managing the restoration effort.

NCGIS conference honors – Asheville GIS analyst Mark Endries brought home third place honors for a poster he submitted to the 2023 North Carolina Geographic Information Systems Conference, hosted in Winton-Salem, NC by the N.C. Department of Information Technology. Mark’s poster focused on the development of a map that prioritized North Carolina stream reaches based on species richness and conservation importance.

Ray Mine – Asheville biologist Sue Cameron joined N.C. Wildlife Commission bat biologist Katherine Etchison and staff from the U.S. Forest Service at Ray Mine in Yancey County, N.C. to discuss options for managing public use and safety of the site while ensuring protection for bats that use the mine. The visit was part of a broader conversation between Cameron and the Forest Service regarding ensuring public safety at caves and mines while allowing use by bats.

March 10,2023

Bryan Tompkins loads of cut sod onto a tractor, helping clear the site of a new pollinator garden.

Pollinator garden on the horizon – Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins worked with the Asheville Housing Authority, Asheville GreenWorks and an alternative spring break group from Temple University to prepare a site of a pollinator garden in Asheville’s Klondyke Homes community. The effort lays the foundation for returning later this spring to plant the 6000-square foot garden, using plants provided by the Service and Carolina Native Nursery.

Electrofishing training – The Fish and Wildlife Service’s electrofishing course will take on a new look after Asheville Field Office biologist Jay Mays joined other Service biologists at the National Conservation Training Center to update to class, the new version of which will be rolled out this coming May. Electrofishing – running a current through a body of water to temporarily stun fish – is a standard field technique in fish management, and the updated course brings a renewed focus on the practical application of electrofishing in the field.

Touching base with Senator Ted Budd’s Office – Asheville Field Office supervisor Janet Mizzi met with Tyler Teresa from the office of Sen. Ted Budd. Budd is beginning his first term in the U.S. Senate and the meeting provided an introduction to the field office and the Service’s conservation efforts in western North Carolina.

March 3, 2023

Spotted salamander found at a Transylvania County, N.C. wetland.

Little River wetlands –Sue Cameron, Mark Endries, Laura Fogo, Natali Ramirez-Bullon, and Rebekah Reid of the Asheville Field Office joined staff from local land conservancy Conserving Carolina to examine an Appalachian wetland being considered for inclusion in Mountain Bogs NWR. The visit turned up quality wetlands with a spotted salamander and wood frog eggs discovered. The biologists also found Carolina hemlock, species the Service has been petitioned to add to the federal threatened and endangered species list.

Geographic information systems classTennessee Field Office cartographer Kurt Snider joined the Asheville Field Office’s Mark Endries in providing a class on geographic information system (GIS) software to staff from the Asheville Field Office, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The class focused on using ArcGIS Pro, the latest software from ESRI for analyzing and displaying geographic information, and touched on ArcGIS Online, enabling the use of cloud-based GIS technology from any device with an internet connection.

Intern moves on –Rebekah Ewing concluded her internship with the Asheville Field Office and is now an employee of Erwin National Fish Hatchery, in Erwin, TN. While an intern with the Service, Ewing was a graduate student at Appalachian State University researching host fish for native, freshwater mussels (native freshwater mussels go through a life stage when they are dependent on a host fish for nourishment). In addition to supporting fish production, Ewing will help the hatchery develop their mussel propagation capacity.

Science fair judging -Asheville field office biologist Dr. Natali Ramirez-Bullon recently served as a science fair judge for the North Carolina Student Academy of Science’s western North Carolina competition. The event was hosted by the University of North Carolina Asheville and included a series of presentations from area middle school students on research they conducted, feedback from judges, and concluded with an awards ceremony.

February 24, 2023

Planning sicklefin redhorse conservationThe sicklefin redhorse, a sucker fish found in far western North Carolina and a sliver of North Georgia, is the subject of a 2016 Candidate Conservation Agreement, under which several organizations pledged to work proactively to conserve the fish, an effort which has helped keep it off the federal threatened and endangered species list. Each February, biologists come together to plan the year’s management effort, typically centered on the fish’s spring spawning run. Asheville biologist Jay Mays helped organize this year’s meeting, the first in-person meeting since 2020, which was also attended by Asheville staff Andrew Henderson, Jeff Quast, and Bryan Tompkins. 

Rights-of-way and bat conservationAsheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins recently completed a year-long effort with Duke Energy to develop measures for minimizing and avoiding impacts to tree-roosting threatened and endangered bats as they maintain thousands of miles of distribution line rights-of-way in western North Carolina each year. Measures include using trained Duke staff to assess roosting habitat and bat occurrence records to adjust maintenance timing to a period when bats wouldn’t be present; conducting bat acoustic and emergence surveys at hazard trees to ensure maintenance is done when imperiled bats aren’t present; whenever possible trimming hazard trees just enough to eliminate the hazard, leaving as much roosting habitat as possible; and conducting all aerial trimming outside of the roosting season. The measures are a voluntary, pro-active step by Duke as more bats receive Endangered Species Act protection in the wake of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease often fatal to many bat species. 

February 17, 2023

Tricolored bat good news – Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined state biologists at a western North Carolina cave known to be one of North Carolina’s most important hibernation sites for tricolored bats, a species proposed for inclusion on the federal threatened and endangered species list. The team counted 102 tricolored bats, the first time in recent years more than 100 have been counted at a hibernation site in western North Carolina.

The year ahead in red spruce restoration – The Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative’s steering committee had their inaugural 2023 meeting, with Sue Cameron, Mark Endries, and Gary Peeples from the Asheville Field Office in attendance. The group is charting restoration activities for the year and looking at ways to raise the attention of spruce restoration efforts on the heals of the Forest Service using a red spruce as the 2022 capitol Christmas tree. Red spruce is a key part of southern Appalachian high-elevation forests that are home to the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel and spruce-fir moss spider.

Polk County, N.C. middle schoolers – Middle school students in North Carolina’s Polk County were virtually visited by the Asheville Field Office’s Gary Peeples. Gary dropped into the middle school class via Zoom for a question-and-answer session that ran the gamut from invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
to stream health, to how they could improve wildlife habitat on and around their school campus.

February 10, 2023

Siting renewable energy – Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins recently joined a workshop on siting renewable energy in North Carolina to foster environmental resilience. The workshop, held in Raleigh, was organized by Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with the goal of fostering conversation about where best to site renewable energy facilities to minimize environmental impact and maximize the ease of environmental review and compliance. Tompkins reviews energy projects for the Asheville Field Office, working with energy companies to help address impacts to fish, wildlife, and plants.

Grandfather Mountain caves – Grandfather Mountain is the hibernation site for North Carolina’s only population of endangered Virginia big-eared bat. Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron recently visited the site to assist with bat surveys in two of the mountain’s caves. Although weather was a challenge – precipitation just above freezing - the effort was fruitful, turning up 462 Virginia big-eared bats, the most ever counted at the site. 

February 3, 2023

Blue Ridge Parkway vistas - The Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park Service’s most visited unit, is known for the Appalachian Mountain views it provides as it runs its 469-mile course connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park. In a constantly growing forest, keeping vistas open takes maintenance. Rebekah Reid of the Asheville Field Office recently completed review under the Endangered Species Act on the National Park Service’s maintenance plan for the North Carolina vistas, which included measures to minimize impacts to Carolina northern flying squirrel, spruce-fir moss spider, and several bat species.

Mine exploration – Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists to survey bats in an abandoned mica mine in western North Carolina’s Haywood County. The mine was once considered the most important site in North Carolina for tri-colored bats – a species currently proposed for Endangered Species Act protection. Up to 3,000 tricolored bats have been seen in the mine at a time, but this year’s survey revealed 16.

This Cessna 414A crashed in western North Carolina's Plott Balsam Mountains in 1983 near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A curious consultation – In 1983, A Cessna 414A plane crashed off the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina’s Plott Balsam Mountains. The plane’s wreckage has sat there ever since, and although there are no official trails to the site, it receives a lot of visitation, resulting in a heavily impacted area. Now the National Park Service plans to lift the wreckage out via helicopter, and Asheville Field Office biologist Rebekah Reid worked with them to minimize or eliminate any impacts to threatened or endangered species that might occur, especially considering the site is a high elevation area home to several imperiled species.

January 27, 2023

Working together for dwarf-flowered heartleaf - One of the largest populations of dwarf-flowered heartleaf, a threatened plant proposed for removal from the federal threatened and endangered species list, is found along the Broad River Greenway in Cleveland County, N.C. Greenway administrators are seeking a federal grant for trail maintenance for the greenway, including some trail relocations, and invited Asheville Field Office biologists Rebekah Reid and Holland Youngman to walk the site and assist with planning the updates so they wouldn’t impact the site’s heartleaf population.

Engaging schools on pollinator conservation – In working with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to engage high schools in pollinator conservation, Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins visited Asheville High School to discuss the possibility of engaging students to raise pollinator-friendly plants on campus for use in pollinator-planting projects in the surrounding community. Asheville High School is one of dozens of schools across the state that have expressed an interest in incorporating pollinator conservation into programs such as science and agriculture.

January 20, 2023

Another step toward stream restoration – Asheville Field Office biologists Sue Cameron, Laura Fogo, and Jay Mays visited the site of a pending floodplain, riverbank, and stream restoration project, funded in part by the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The Henderson County, N.C. site sits on the French Broad River and is the location of a failed residential development subsequently acquired by local land conservancy Conserving Carolina. The biologists’ visit was a step toward wrapping up project compliance with environmental laws before restoration work begins this later this winter.

Coordinating on transportation - Project A-0009 is a transportation project that will improve the main highway corridor to Robbinsville, N.C., a town in far western North Carolina, improving the community’s connectivity with the rest of the state. Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined her counterparts from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, N.C. Division of Water Resources, N.C. Department of Transportation, and project contractors for the first of what will be monthly on-site environmental meetings during project implementation. Cutting across National Forest, Tribal lands, the Appalachian Trail, and through golden-winged warbler habitat, the NCDOT was able to design the project by improving existing roadways rather than cutting a new alignment, with a new land bridge built for wildlife and Appalachian Trail hiker passage over the road, and habitat improvements for golden-winged warbler, a bird being considered for Endangered Species Act protection.  

January 13, 2023

Bat discovery – While scouting the site of a future road widening project on Pisgah National Forest, Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson encountered a tricolored bat dormant in a stone culvert. The discovery is one of the few times a tricolored bat has been found in Caldwell County during the winter. In September of 2022, the tricolored bat was proposed for inclusion on the federal list of threatened and endangered species as endangered.

January 6, 2023

Bog restoration – Responding to a severely-eroding stream cutting across a western North Carolina bog, Asheville Field Office biologists Sue Cameron and Holland Youngman visited the site with state and private biologists to begin discussing how to move forward on restoration. The wetland is the focus of conservation efforts from myriad organizations, and a portion of it is likely to become part of Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.