Displaying items by tag: great smoky mountains national park
Forest service withholds ginseng permits to protect native Southern Appalachian plants as overall poaching persists
Paul Super has a message for people who take plants and animals from Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
“We’re trying to protect the park as a complete ecosystem and as a place that people can enjoy the wildlife and everything that lives here … but they have to do it in a sustainable way, and poaching doesn’t fit,” said Super, the park's resource coordinator.
“Be a good citizen. Enjoy the park without damaging it.”
Super said the novel coronavirus pandemic led to the second-highest visitation to the park in 2020, just over 12 million, even with the park being closed briefly.
“This year will likely have the highest visitation ever,” he said, adding that the park is, in terms of the pandemic, a “relatively safe place for family and friends.”
Super said this higher visitation rate may lead to more poaching but it may also lead to more people who “appreciate something that a poacher would take away from them.
“Besides being illegal, that’s just selfish and rude,” Super said regarding plants and animals, and even cultural artifacts that are taken from the park.
Super is the park's research coordinator, and is in charge of recruiting researchers to help better understand the nuances and full ramifications of stealing public natural resources. He said his researchers don’t enforce the laws, but they do alert law enforcement rangers to poaching incidents and suspicions.
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Two people died while on outings in the Smokies area.
One man drowned at the base of Abrams Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the other was killed when his motorcycle veered off Foothills Parkway into a drainage ditch, according to the National Park Service.
In Friday's incident, Stephen Musser, 73, of Roswell, Georgia, was pushed under while swimming beneath the falls at about 2:15 p.m. His body, which was entrapped in debris under the surface, was recovered about seven hours later by divers from the Blount Special Operations Rescue Team.
Park officials warned visitors about the risks involved in entering park waters, noting unexpectedly strong currents and sieve-like debris common in streams and rivers.
Sixty people have drowned within the national park over its 85-year history; 10 of those have perished near Abrams Falls, according to the park service.
Rangers also responded at about 11:35 a.m. Saturday to a fatal motorcycle crash on Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley.
Park officials said David Birdsong, 57, was heading south at mile marker 24 when he lost control of his motorcycle and left the roadway. He was pronounced dead while en route to a hospital.
Rangers said speed appeared to be a factor in the crash.
Birdsong was the fourth motorcyclist to die on the parkway or in the national park this year.
Car crashes account for 40 percent of fatalities along the parkway or in the national park. Twenty percent of those fatalities involve motorcycles, national park officials said.
A window on ursine motherhood in Cades Cove
As I was descending a wooded hillside in the heart of Cades Cove on a June afternoon, a motionless black bulk caught my eye off to my left.
I turned my attention there, regarded the scene for a few moments, and realized the sprawling blur was a large sleeping bear. A few moments more of inspection revealed three cubs snoozing in the branches overhead.
I decided to hunker down and watch the scene for a while, and my patience paid off. After several minutes of occasional scratching and yawning, the cubs began to stir. One by one, they descended the tree and began to poke, prod and pace around their reclining mother. A thought popped in my head – would they nurse? Would I be so lucky? I was. I got an intimate look at a mother bear letting her guard down and nourishing her three restless offspring. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Black bear mothers invest a lot in the care of their cubs. Nursing begins in the winter den, where the mother’s metabolism is already taxed by winter fasting, and tends to continue until the cubs’ first autumn. A lactating mother black bear may lose up to 40 percent of her body weight over the winter as she nurses her newborn cubs. Black bear milk is exceptionally high in fat, around 22 percent by weight. Compare this to human and cow milk at around a modest 4 percent. The rapid growth and restless energy of a healthy black bear cub is fueled by one of the most calorically-rich milks among North American mammals.
This video was shot with a long lens from a long distance. Remember, for the safety of visitors and of wildlife, black bears should not be approached within 50 yards in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors should also change direction or move away if their presence causes a bear to change its behavior.
A well-known podcaster who chronicles bizarre disappearances and crime on or near public lands details the sad story of Michael Hearon, a 51-year-old Maryville man who vanished in August 2008 while tending his 100-acre property in Happy Valley. His Blount County land abutted the Abrams Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hearon's abandoned 4-wheeler was located by searchers, but absolutely no other clues to his disappearance were found despite an extensive search by national park personnel, search parties and family members.
Journalist Delia D’Ambra said Hearon's case is one of the strangest she's ever investigated, and hopes the podcast will jog memories and generate new leads. The episode debuts June 1 and can be found on a range of podcast services.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Monday announced that Alan Sumeriski, a veteran park infrastructure manager in the nation's most-visited national park, will take the helm as deputy superintendent.
“Alan is a well-respected senior leader in the National Park Service with over 30 years of experience in managing some of the most complex operations in the National Park Service and I’m honored to select him as the next deputy superintendent of the Smokies,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a press release announcing Sumeriski's new assignment. “As acting deputy superintendent, Alan has consistently provided strong and innovative parkwide leadership to help us meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.”
Sumeriski has served as the heavily visited national park's facilities management chief since 2007. His first assignment was as an engineering equipment operator for park service units in the Washington/Baltimore area.
“Alan provides leadership for over 150 permanent and seasonal staff who care for 384 miles of roads, 146 bridges, 152 historic cemeteries, 27 water and sewer systems, 10 campgrounds, 11 picnic areas, 848 miles of trails, and over 100 historic structures and landscapes,” according to a park release.
Southern stretch of Foothills Parkway to get $33 million overhaul
The National Park Service will repave and improve the entire southern stretch of Foothills Parkway and design a replacement of the outdated maintenance facilities at Sugarlands thanks to funding from the Great American Outdoors Act.
Both projects will cost a combined $40 million and be paid for via a foundation established as part of the overall legislation passed by Congress in 2020.
The Department of the Interior will spend a total of $1.6 billion from the Legacy Restoration Fund this year alone as part of a long-range goal to improve infrastructure and catch up on maintenance needs in national parks and other federally managed lands, according to a release. National public lands across the country, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, have long faced maintenance deficits totaling billions of dollars.
The Foothills Parkway and Sugarlands work is one of 165 deferred maintenance projects that will be funded this year. Infrastructure improvements are also planned for sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.
The $33.6 million in planned improvements to the parkway between Walland and Tallassee (from mile marker 55 to 72) will include enhanced safety features and milling and replacement of the pavement.
“The road rehabilitation will include pullouts and parking areas, replacing steel backed timber guardrail, and repair, reconstruction and repointing of stone masonry bridge parapet walls and the walls along Look Rock Overlook,” according to interior department documents.
“Other work will include removing and resetting stone curb, replacing/repairing of the drainage structures, stabilizing roadside ditches, overlaying or reconstructing paved waterways, stabilizing and reseeding the shoulder, installing pavement markings, replacing regulatory and NPS signs, and constructing ramps with curb cuts to provide access to interpretive panels and to meet federal accessibility guidelines.”
“The work proposed in this project would reduce the hazards and improve safety for park visitors and employees,” according to the data sheet.
The Legacy Restoration Fund will also cover the $3.5 million cost of a design/build plan to improve and update the expansive and deteriorating maintenance yard at Sugarlands.
“The buildings, driveways, and parking areas associated with the maintenance yard have not been renovated or rehabilitated in decades,” according to a data sheet.
“There are safety hazards, inadequate space or capacity for park maintenance and operations personnel, and facilities that are entirely insufficient for essential park operations and maintenance. The condition of many buildings is so poor that replacement and disposal is likely the only practical option. This project will complete predesign project programming and budgeting and develop a Design Build RFP for the rehabilitation or replacement of facilities and associated utilities, parking, and grounds.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting additional information on possible future projects and to what extent national infrastructure plans proposed by the Biden administration might benefit the park, which is the most-visited in the nation.
Here’s a link to the full Department of the Interior National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund Fund release. Here are the Foothills Parkway and Sugarlands maintenance yard project data sheets.
Safe Passage initiative calls for wildlife and human protections along mountain highways
Jean Loveday is driving her husband, Tom, home from a doctor’s appointment in Johnson City, Tennessee. Their Toyota pickup truck is winding along Interstate 26, not far from the North Carolina state line north of Asheville.
“Human infrastructure is making it increasingly difficult for wildlife to follow their natural patterns of movement across the landscape,” says Hugh Irwin, a landscape conservation planner with The Wilderness Society who raised concerns back in the 1990s about I-40 being a barrier to wildlife movement. “Historically too little thought and planning has gone into wildlife needs, and our current infrastructure fails to provide for wildlife passage.”
Passionate discussions led to action, and soon more than 80 individuals from nearly 20 federal, state, Tribal, and non-governmental organizations were collaborating to make this section of roadway more permeable for wildlife and safer for people.
Roadkill’s “Pernicious Twin”
The intersection of roads and wildlife is a safety issue that is not unique to North Carolina and Tennessee. According to the Federal Highway Administration, an estimated two million large mammals are killed on roads in the United States each year, resulting in more than 26,000 human injuries and at least 200 human fatalities.
For years, road ecologists around the world have been working to mitigate highways that were originally designed without consideration for wildlife. Europe, Canada, Mexico, and many U.S. states have already created effective wildlife road crossings. Recent articles and videos featuring large wildlife overpasses in Utah and Texas have been shared widely on social media.
Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser (pronounced ‘Houser’) with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman has contributed to road ecology studies for more than two decades. He cites three main reasons why people care about this issue: the desire for wildlife conservation, concern for human safety, and economics. “No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, you’re going to care about at least one of these,” he says.
On November 26, 2019, The Atlantic ran an auspicious road ecology article by Ben Goldfarb titled “How Roadkill Became an Environmental Disaster.” Focusing on the giant anteaters of Brazil, whose range is—you guessed it—bisected by a huge highway, the epic, riveting story introduces readers to Evelyn the anteater and a cast of road-weary researchers. One particular Goldfarb quote became the motto for researchers assessing wildlife movement and mortality in the Pigeon River Gorge: “Collisions may be road ecology’s most obvious concern, but fragmentation is roadkill’s pernicious twin.”
Conservationists point out the gravity of individual animals being killed on roads. But when they no longer try to cross, it can signal an even more dire situation.
“When wildlife finally stops even trying to cross, the highway has become a barrier,” says Hunter. “The ‘barrier effect’ is not to be confused with the concrete Jersey barriers that prevent many individual crossings. When a whole population stops crossing the road, that means their habitat is now fragmented, preventing the healthy genetic exchange that species need to thrive.”
Ron Sutherland works to restore, reconnect and re-establish wildlife corridors that have been fragmented throughout the eastern United States in his role as chief scientist with Wildlands Network, the organization that kicked off discussions about mitigation to I-40 in 2015. He defines habitat connectivity as the degree to which organisms are able to move freely across the landscape.
“Habitat connectivity can be very high, such as in a remote and intact wilderness,” he says, “or it can be very low, such as in a city park surrounded on all sides by busy highways.”
Sutherland points out that people often get wildlife corridors and wildlife road crossings confused.
“A wildlife corridor is the term we use for a defined movement pathway that, if protected or restored, would provide essential habitat connectivity for one or more species,” he says. “They can be easy to see—such as a vegetated trail alongside a roadway—or nearly invisible and defined only by the movements of the animals.”
A wildlife road crossing, on the other hand, is “a structure that is designed to allow wildlife to safely cross over or under a busy road,” he says. “So, of course it follows that one of the best places to put wildlife road crossings is where you have a wildlife corridor that gets cut off by a highway.”
Read the rest of the story at The Appalachian Voice.
The lack of regional and local vehicle traffic during the pandemic greatly reduced measurable pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This is your Hellbender weekend read, and the first in an occasional Hellbender Press series about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural world
Great Smoky Mountains National Park shut down for six weeks in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recorded emissions reductions during that period in part illustrate the role motor vehicles play in the park's vexing air-quality issues. The full cascade of effects from the pollution reductions are still being studied.
Hellbender Press interviewed park air quality specialist Jim Renfro about the marked reduction of carbon dioxide and other pollutants documented during the park closure during the pandemic, and the special scientific opportunities it presents. He responded to the following questions via email.
Hellbender Press: You cited “several hundred tons" in pollutant reductions during an interview with WBIR of Knoxville (in 2020). What types of air pollutants does this figure include?
Answer: Carbon dioxide (CO2) would be most of the tons reduced from the lack of motor vehicles in the park during the park shutdown because of the pandemic. Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter are other emissions that were lower, but to a much lesser extent.
HP: During what time frame?
A: It was based on when the primary park roads were closed, for about a six-week period from March 24 through May 9 (2020)
HP: Was this based on data collected at the Look Rock air-quality monitoring station or monitoring sites throughout the park?
A: No, it was estimated reductions in air emissions (tons) from using the park's emissions inventory for criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases coupled with the reduction in park visitation data for the period of the park shutdown.
HP: Was this a result of reduced auto travel in the park?
HP: A lot of emissions, of course, come from outside of the park. Was the improvement in air quality also a function of reduced pollutants coming from outside the park?
A: The documented reduction was with emissions, not air quality. Air quality analysis is still under way to look at changes in air pollutants.
HP: What do you think the primary reasons for the air quality improvements were?
A: If there were reductions in air pollutants (and that is still being analyzed by EPA and NPS Air Resources Division), it was due primarily to the reduction in motor vehicle emissions in and near the park (and regionally).
HP: Did you purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic’s effect on air quality, or was this an “accidental” discovery?
A: We did not purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic's effect on air quality. Monitoring efforts continued during the pandemic and provided a unique and unexpected opportunity to characterize the differences in air emissions (from park closures and limited motor vehicle emissions) and air pollutants (which will take longer to look at laboratory analysis after quality assured analysis).
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Park managers hope new rule will limit trampling of the flowers people flock to photograph. Meanwhile, there's sad news about the sink's resident bats.
Large groups of spring visitors to the geologically and ecologically unique Whiteoak Sink area near Cades Cove will have to obtain permits in an ongoing effort to prevent damage to the sink’s plant and animal habitats.
The sink is home to vivid wildflower displays in the spring, and the 5,000 people who come to see the annual spectacle stray off trails and destroy or damage some plant species.
“The intent of the trial reservation system is to better protect sensitive wildflower species that can be damaged when large groups crowd around plants off-trail to take photos or closely view blooms,” according to a release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Whiteoak Sink is off the Schoolhouse Gap Trail between Townsend and Cades Cove.
“This trial project will allow managers to determine if better coordinating group access can reduce trampling and soil compaction around sensitive plant populations.”
Video documents success of ‘Smokies Hikes for Healing’ endeavor
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash was as shaken as the rest of us this past spring and summer when a national reckoning of racism erupted across the country following the homicide of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Also like many of us, Cash, who is Black, wondered what he could do to help heal 400-year-old wounds.
He determined we needed to take a walk in the woods and talk about things.
“As an African American man and son of a police officer, I found myself overwhelmed with the challenges we faced in 2020 and the endless news cycle that focused on racial unrest,” Cash said in a press release distributed Feb. 26.
“My medicine for dealing with this stress was a walk in the woods, and I felt called to share that experience with others. Following a summer hike in the park, I brought together our team to create an opportunity for people to come together for sharing, understanding, and healing.”
Sixty people directly participated in Cash’s Smokies Hikes for Healing program, Smokies Hikes for Healing, which ran from August to December in the national park. Hundreds of people visited an accompanying website to learn more or acquire information on how to lead their own such hikes.
Cash, who credited the park team who helped him organize the innovative project, correctly determined there was no more appropriate place to honestly discuss racism and the importance of diversity than a hike in one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.
David Lamfrom, Stephanie Kyriazis, and Marisol Jiménez, facilitated the hikes and created a “brave space for open conversations about diversity and racism,” according to the park release, which also announced the availability of the Smokies Hikes for Healing video produced by Great Smoky Mountains Association.
Friends of the Smokies and New Belgium Brewing Company also contributed financial support to the effort.