On Monday, April 27th, 30 AmeriCorps Project Conserve Members teamed up with the Weed Action Coalition of Hickory Nut Gorge (WAC-HNG) and several local landowners for 2 Disaster Mitigation Service Projects. Disaster Preparedness Training and Mitigation are new focus areas for the environmental-based AmeriCorps program, which it expects to expand in the future as a response to the increased need for disaster services across the nation.
WAC-HNG is a CMLC initiative that works as a coalition of area partners to protect the natural communities and scenic beauty of the Hickory Nut Gorge by managing the establishment and spread of non-native invasive plant species.
The projects were executed in Bat Cave, NC, located in the far eastern corner of Henderson County and just within the scenically beautiful Hickory Nut Gorge. The area, with its steep and rocky slopes, narrow roads and even narrower stream corridors, is highly vulnerable to hazards including severe thunderstorms, landslides, high winds, riverine erosion, and flooding. According to the 2010 Henderson County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, there are 236 buildings in the Bat Cave Area that are vulnerable to landslides, representing nearly $20 million dollars in value. In the past, there has been significant damage in the area caused by excessive rain events (severe thunderstorms and hurricanes) and one death has been attributed to falling debris during one of these events. Small to large landslide events, downed trees, and rock falls are not uncommon after a heavy rain which can (and often) block transportation routes, damage property, and put residents in danger of bodily harm.
There are some methods for lessening the impact of these hazards including education of residents and early warning of a potential disaster, enforcement of higher building code standards, scaling (and other methods of reducing loose debris), and regulation of development in hazard prone areas. With guidance from WAC-HNG,
Project Conserve focused on control of non-native invasive plants in the area, which reduces loose debris and has other benefits not outlined in the Henderson County plan, and which are described below.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a non-native invasive plant species that was introduced into the Bat Cave area in the early 1900’s as an ornamental ground cover. Over the years, once small populations have grown to cover dozens of acres of forest. These places are called Ivy Deserts, because native plant and tree seeds cannot germinate under the thick layer of ivy. The vine readily grows high into the tree canopy, putting stress on the trees and eventually killing them. The shallow, spreading root system does not do well to hold in the soil during a heavy rain event, and the dead and/or stressed trees are prone to fall, especially during a weather event. Project Conserve Members relieved stress on nearly 100 large trees by using hand tools to cut chunks out of the ivy vines that were scaling the trees, and herbicide to prevent regrowth. Later, WAC-HNG will work with the landowner to manage the ivy still covering the ground.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is another non-native invasive plant that has established itself in the Hickory Nut Gorge. It prefers stream banks and ditches, but will grow almost anywhere. It looks similar to bamboo, and will grow vigorously from seed and small fragments of plants damaged in floods or from human activity. Because of this, the plant must be handled carefully and disposed of correctly. Often times Knotweed forms very dense infestations that outcompete native plants and narrow the stream corridor. Then it dies back in the fall, leaving an exposed shoreline and large dead stalks that can clog the stream. Project Conserve Members cut out and burned the vegetation, and chemically treated the bases with aquatic herbicide.
AmeriCorps Project Conserve is a national service program in which members come from across the nation to dedicate themselves to serving western North Carolina for an 11 month service term. Members are selected based on skill, education, experience, passion and commitment to service. Project Conserve was founded in September of 2004 as an initiative of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) to respond to the growing conservation needs in western North Carolina. The program focuses on collaboration with nonprofit organizations, community groups and local governments to provide service throughout the region. AmeriCorps Project Conserve is administered by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the NC Commission for Volunteerism and Community Service in the office of Governor Pat McCrory, and the critical support of our host sites and community partners.