Cones in hand
Sue Cameron from the Service’s Asheville Field Office recently joined staff from the Southern Highlands Reserve collecting red spruce cones on Pisgah National Forest, near Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The cone collection is the first step in a multi-year process to restore red spruce to areas where it was found before the extensive logging and burning at the turn of the 20th century.
The Southern Appalachians are home to the highest peaks in the eastern United States and red spruce is a key part of the forests on those mountain-top areas. Unfortunately, the amount of red spruce found there today is a fraction of what stood 150 years ago. These forests were decimated by logging, which was followed by intensive fires which burned the thick layer of organic material the spruce needed to re-establish themselves, allowing a northern hardwood forest, with trees like maple and birch, to expand into new areas.
The collected cones will be divided among partners who will then extract the seeds and begin growing new trees, which will eventually be planted on public lands where red spruce once grew. Planting efforts will also be focused on connecting patches of red spruce. In addition to helping conserve red spruce trees themselves, this effort will benefit wildlife, as high-elevation conifer trees are important sources of food and shelter for a variety of animals, including the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.
Photo credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS