The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
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Celebrate the wild ties that bind Americans on Public Lands Day 2022 — Saturday, Sept. 24

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GATLINBURG — The director of the National Park Service is expected in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Saturday to celebrate National Public Lands Day.

Director Chuck Sams plans to make some remarks in appreciation for the volunteers who help backstop national park maintenance costs before citizens fan out for various tasks across the park. Sams is the first Native American to head the park service, and he will be joined by Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Richard G. Sneed.

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IMG 3876Gerry Moll is seen in the native garden of his home in the 4th and Gill neighborhood of Knoxville.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

People are restoring native plants on their properties. You should, too.

‘There are a lot of messes out there and this is something that you can do right at home that has a positive effect.’

KNOXVILLE — If you want to help native wildlife and attract it to your yard, plant some native plants and kick back on your porch and watch them grow. That’s a good place to start.

That’s the message from Native Plant Rescue Squad founders Gerry Moll and Joy Grissom.

People walking by Moll’s garden in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood off Broadway just north of the city center will see tall plants; not hedges or other foreign plants, but various short trees and native flowers. It looks like an explosion of growth on both sides of the sidewalk, but it’s not chaos.

Published in News, Action Alert, Earth

Hunters are invited to go whole hog on the Tennessee side of Big South Fork

Big South Fork wild hogsWild hogs are seen rooting in a sensitive area. Hog season opens later this month in Big South Fork.  National Park Service

ONEIDA — Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area this week announced regulations for those wanting to kill invasive wild hogs during the upcoming fall and winter seasons.

Most hog populations within the protected areas of BSF are believed to be present on the Tennessee side of the park, which spans the Kentucky border. Feral hogs have been present in East Tennessee for generations. They destroy local flora and fauna mainly by rooting in low-lying mountain and valley areas. They are especially fond of salamanders, many species of which are in grave decline. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hunters are regularly deployed to cull hogs throughout the park.

“The wild hog is an invasive exotic species that has a significant negative impact to native species and do a great deal of damage to farmlands and residential areas. The damage they cause threatens park resources including federally listed plants,” according to a release from the park service.

Deer hunting season opens in Tennessee Sept. 24.  During these big game seasons, wild hogs may be harvested with the appropriate weapon that is legal for that specific season and during an extended hog hunting season that lasts from the end of the deer season until the end of February.”

To clarify:

  1. Archery season: a hog hunter can hunt with a bow or crossbow.
  2. Muzzleloader season: you can hunt with a muzzleloader, crossbow or bow.
  3. Rifle season: you can hunt with a bow, crossbow, muzzleloader, rifle, shotgun or pistol.
  4. Extended hog season you can hunt hogs with anything as long as it is legal for harvesting a deer.

Hunters in search of wild hogs in the area are told to go to the Tennessee side of the park.

For more information on hog permits, contact Big South Fork NRRA at (423) 286-7275, or Obed WSR at (423) 346-6294.

Smokies researchers make a formal acquaintance with a familiar salamander

black bellied salamanderJonathan Cox

Great news from the Smokies via Instagram!

The “salamander capital of the world” just gained a new member! Meet our 31st species: the Cherokee black-bellied salamander, or Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli. Its species name means “black belly” in the Cherokee language. Scientists used genetics to find out that it is different from the other black-bellied salamander in the park.

This salamander is common throughout the park and is known for its extremely dark belly and hunting along the banks of streams. If you see a large, dark-bodied salamander with a flattened tail resting on a river rock or poking its head out of a streamside hole, it’s likely the Cherokee black-bellied!

Remember to always appreciate salamanders and other wildlife from afar. Many of our salamanders breathe through their skin. The oils on our hands can stress them out, disrupt their breathing or even spread infections. Please help us keep our salamanders slimy and avoid picking them up!

— Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Dust bowl soilThe Dust Bowl of the 1930s resulted in the displacement of tons of soil in the midst of a drought similar to the one that grips the Southwest today. Library of Congress
 

Dirt is far from just dirt. It’s a foundation for life.

This story was originally published by The Revelator.

Look down. You may not see the soil beneath your feet as teeming with life, but it is.

Better scientific tools are helping us understand that dirt isn’t just dirt. Life in the soil includes microbes like bacteria and fungi; invertebrates such as earthworms and nematodes; plant roots; and even mammals like gophers and badgers who spend part of their time below ground.

It’s commonly said that a quarter of all the planet’s biodiversity lives in the soil, but that’s likely a vast understatement. Many species that reside there, particularly microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and protists, aren’t yet known to science.

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Crimper on Sequatchie Valley FarmA crimper is attached to the back of a tractor on a farm in the Sequatchie River Valley. A relatively recent agricultural technique, crimping has been shown to reduce farmers’ input costs and improve soil quality. Recently, USDA approved funneling $10 million into a six-county region of Southeast Tennessee. This money will fuel conservation-minded improvements for landowners, including lowering the cost to rent equipment like crimpers and subsidize the planting of cover crops to improve soil health and reduce sedimentation in nearby streams.  Tennessee Aquarium
 

Targeted collaborative conservation will help local agricultural operations improve soil and water quality and protect aquatic life

CHATTANOOGA Tennessee is as much a patchwork quilt of farms as it is an intricately woven lacework of streams and rivers. Soon, farmers and the aquatic life living alongside them will reap the benefits of $10 million in federal funds to support water-friendly agricultural improvements in the rolling uplands of the state’s southeastern corner.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the allocation of more than $197 million to support Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) throughout the nation. These initiatives promote coordination between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partnering organizations that are already engaged in conservation efforts.

Among USDA’s list of 41 approved projects this year is a five-year allocation of $10 million — $2 million per year — to fuel the “Ridges to Rivers” program, an RCPP focused on agricultural improvements in a six-county region spanning the Sequatchie River Valley and Walden Ridge. This federal funding matches $11.8 million already being invested in the region by more than a dozen local partnering organizations that applied to receive this funding.

Published in News, Earth, Water
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KNOXVILLE — People assembled at 6 p.m. Aug. 19 to speak for the trees threatened by development of an art installment at the half-acre Cradle of Country Music Park at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive downtown.

The Harvey Broome Chapter of the Sierra Club organized the protest against the removal of five mature oak trees to make way for the sculpture and its base, which was originally commissioned to a New York City artist in 2018 and will cost the city $600,000, according to reporting from Compass. The online news outlet also reported Friday that Councilwoman Seema Singh has requested a pause in the project to determine whether there are alternatives to removing the trees.

“While five trees will be removed, 12 are being preserved, and nine new trees are being planted. It is a net gain of four trees. Over time, as the new trees mature, there will be more canopy than exists now,” city spokesman Eric Vreeland told Hellbender Press.

The project was commissioned under former Mayor Madeline Rogero, who was quoted at the time in a city government blog post as saying: “We’ve been increasing our collection of public art in recent years — both in terms of quantity and quality. The Public Art Committee has done a great job in commissioning a wide variety of intellectually-stimulating murals, sculptures, painted stairs, metal relief and other pieces. And now, this latest project will completely transform a small underused pocket park into a dynamic downtown focal point.”

Knoxville’s influence on the nascent country music scene is described in a walking tour offered by Visit Knoxville that highlights the city’s connections to country stars such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and the Everly Brothers.

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An empty Circle Park as trees bloom on April 02, 2020. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of TennesseeAn empty Circle Park is seen in April. The park is adjacent to the UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

Everybody has a story about the natural environment. Look around, and into yourself.

University of Tennessee journalism professor Mark Littmann asks students in his environmental writing class every semester to write short sketches about environmental issues they may observe during any given day. Such an assignment requires an almost poetical approach. Here's a sampling from spring semester.

A reef of bones

Huge schools of rainbow-colored fish weave through the brightly colored corals as Sir David Attenborough describes a day in the life of a fish on the television screen. A little girl is mesmerized; this is no Disney fantasy but real life. The nature shows on Animal Planet capture her imagination and soon mornings and afternoons are spent watching big cats and meerkats navigate the wild spaces they call home. She finds an instant favorite in the book “The Rainbow Fish” and celebrates turning four with a sparkly rainbow fish cake, hand decorated with sprees for rainbow scales. She insists someday she will swim among the fish in their magical undersea world. 

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IMG 6088You might have to pay to park at some of these trailheads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park starting next year. These old trail badges are displayed in Fontana Village on the south side of the Smokies. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Smokies parking fees will generate $7 million in revenue for park infrastructure

GATLINBURG — Getting outside just got more expensive.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced Monday the park would proceed with plans for a $5/per day parking pass required of all cars staying in one spot for more than 15 minutes.

Weekly passes will be $15, and annual passes will be available for $40, according to a release from the park service. Fees will also increase $3 for backcountry and campground permits, meaning campers and backpackers will have to fork over $8 a night.

Falling trees accountable for very few deaths in Smokies, but they do happen

CITIZEN TIMES: Child killed by falling tree was a very rare twist of horrible fate

Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen Times wrote a great article on tree-related deaths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and beyond following the death last week of a Georgia child killed by a falling tree as she was occupying a tent in Elkmont Campground.

She reports the death of the child was only the 11th tree-linked death in the national park’s history.

The first such death was reported in 1934, when a Civil Conservation Corps worker was killed. Tree-related deaths since are normally associated with roadways and hiking trails.

“‘Deaths related to falling trees or limbs account for about 2 percent of total recorded deaths in the park. It’s an incredibly rare and tragic occurrence and accounts for the first-ever fatality caused by a tree falling on a tent in park history,’” according to an interview Chavez had with park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

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