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Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition Update

Photo of a tangle of Oriental bittersweet vines.

Oriental bittersweet vines can be extremely prolific, killing trees and harming forest health.

The Sandy Mush Coalition — a partnership among SAHC, the Forest Stewards Guild, and EcoForesters – has completed its first year of collective effort to increase capacity to control invasive exotic plants and improve forest stewardship in Sandy Mush. The coalition is fostering healthy and resilient forests that protect environmental values, cultural heritage, economic opportunities, and quality of life for people in the Sandy Mush area of Buncombe, Madison, and Haywood counties.

“The purpose of the coalition is to increase the community’s capacity to conduct forest management activities and to address the concerns and needs of landowners in the community,” explains SAHC Stewardship Director Sarah Sheeran.  “We just finished the first year of our partnership, in which we’ve been meeting with community members, natural resource professionals, and stakeholders. With the coalition up and running, we have an action plan and are now in the process of implementing that plan as we head into our second year.”

The coalition held two introductory information-gathering sessions with community members last fall and a Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Gathering in January, in which a variety of organizations and forest professionals presented.  These facilitated listening sessions connected state and local partners and other nonprofits involved in forest health initiatives with community members.

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated.

“The coalition is providing a means to connect landowners with the technical and financial resources they need in order to improve forest stewardship on their properties,” continues Sheeran. “The event in January was a powerful way of gathering the people together in one room so that SAHC and our coalition partners could answer questions from landowners on the tools and resources available to help them manage their land.”

Funding for the coalition also enabled SAHC to treat approximately 50 acres of our conservation properties and preserves.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the land we own and fulfill our own commitment to management, while modelling these management practices for others,” says Sheeran.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area logoThis project is made possible in part by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. Support from local philanthropic environmental leaders provided critical funding to make the coalition possible. We also want to thank the state and local partners and other nonprofits who presented at the community gatherings and have been involved in these efforts – including NC Forest Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Mountain Valleys RC&D, MountainTrue, Hemlock Restoration Initiative, and several others.

“We’ve all been working together to fulfill community goals for family forests in Sandy Mush — To help gain an understanding of what people value about the land, fears they have, and the needs they’ve identified, so collaboratively we can come up with a plan to address these needs and concerns,” says Sheeran.  “What I really appreciate about the community is how much they value their sense of place. This is a very tight knit community that has a tremendous love for their land, their neighbors, and their place. You get a real appreciation for how special Sandy Mush is – the sense of ownership and pride in community.”

XploreUSA Volunteers Help Shortleaf Pine

On Thursday, July 13, we welcomed a group of XploreUSA students to our Community Farm for a workday in the Shortleaf Pine reforestation area. The teen volunteers consisted of international exchange students along with some of their American host siblings. XploreUSA is a day camp which offers several language classes, fun activities, and meaningful weekly volunteer projects. The volunteer projects for this day included thinning of non-native invasive plant species and seeding Kentucky 31 Fescue grass and perennial flowers.

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Waynesville First United Methodist Church Volunteers at Doubleside Knob

On Saturday June 3rd, ten members from Waynesville’s First United Methodist Church came out to our Doubleside Knob conservation property to help removed invasive Oriental Bittersweet vines.

This tract is located within SAHC’s French Broad River Valley Conservation Focus Area. The heart of this area is the French Broad River, which is believed to be the third oldest river in the world — even pre-dating the ancient Appalachian Mountains. Our efforts to protect land in this area contribute to clean streams and rivers. Properties like Doubleside Knob are often adjacent to or contain headwater streams, and protecting the land helps protect these clean water sources.

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Coming to a forest near you… Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive insect native to Asia that has killed millions of ash trees. First discovered in Michigan in 2002, the EAB has been identified in 30 states (primarily in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast). The beetle larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Mortality can be swift, and identification of ash trees that may be infested with the EAB can be difficult.

How can landowners help protect ash on their property and elsewhere?

We recommend the following:

  • Educate yourself – Visit the Emerald Ash Borer website to learn more about this invasive pest, including how to identify it and what your treatment options may be.
  • Follow the beetles – Researchers have been tracking areas where the beetle has been found. Visit the EAB Detection webpage for up-to-date information on beetle detection and distribution.

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