As Summer Solstice approaches, it’s a joy and a privilege to be immersed in the beautiful Appalachian forests. Last week we greeted the 300 year old Keffer Oak, the oldest oak tree on the southern AT…
And always the woods are alive with bird song, their calls so much more varied than at home (mobile phone bird; car alarm bird; pac man death noise bird; primate bird; R2-D2 bird – we’ve no idea of their real identities, but that’s exactly how they sound) and gorgeous butterflies.
And yet even here, in this protected wilderness, the impact of human presence can be seen and felt.
In the northern half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest, the Fraser Firs are all dying off, the mortality rate up to 99%. The contrast with the southern half of the park is stark, with ghost trees bereft of pine needles so prominent that as you walk through people ask you ‘what’s happened to them?’
The answer is that a combination of air pollution and acid rain has left the trees vulnerable to attack by the balsam woolly adelgid, a non-native, human introduced species, and so the forest is dying.
Further along the trail the ravages of another human-introduced species, the gypsy moth, has led to camping restrictions and shelter closures as there are so many standing dead trees that it has become dangerous.
The spraying efforts of the US Forest service aim to slow the spread of the gypsy moth, but despite their best efforts around 700,000 acres of forest are expected to be at risk of defoliation this year.
Current issues of climate change and increasing pollution are global in scope, and sadly, simply being designated protected areas is not sufficient to ensure the good health and continuation of these majestic forests.
Unfortunately, the political situation both here in the USA and at home in the UK does not bode well for the wilderness. The USA pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and cutting funding to the EPA can only hamper efforts to counter these threats. And in the UK the imminent exit from the EU means the loss of vital wildlife protection laws, which we have no guarantee will be adequately replaced. Both administrations have made it abundantly clear that they consider legislation protecting the health of the planet to be so much ‘red tape’ that hinders businesses in their pursuit of profit.
So for those of us that love the wild places, and all that they contain, the trees, and all the life that depends upon them, there has never been a more vital time to stick up for them. Organisations such as the Appalacian Trail Conservancy, or back at home, the Woodland Trust, are fighting to protect the forests – support them in their efforts if you can.
With brightest wishes for a blessed Solstice