Modern day David vs. Goliath offers hope for hemlocks

By Guest Writer Mac Stone:

(Mac Stone serves as the executive director of Naturaland Trust, a Greenville-based nonprofit working to protect the Upstate's natural places.)

During the last ten years, one of Naturaland Trust's major projects has been to protect the South Saluda River corridor along Scenic Highway 11 in northern Greenville County. Today, these properties constitute one of the most accessible trout fishing destinations in South Carolina.

In 2014, with the help of the South Carolina Conservation Bank, the federal Scenic Byways fund and a private donation, we were able to complete this effort with the purchase of a tree farm across from Wildcat Wayside State Park. With beautiful wooded river frontage, the property also contains acres of planted hemlocks.

Throughout the Carolinas, hemlocks have been decimated by a foreign pest called the hemlock woolly adelgid, populations of which are ravaging and changing the dynamics of our southern forests. Biologists have been working tirelessly to find ways to combat the blight, and after years of research the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station might finally have an answer — using a small but lethal predator to fight the adelgids.

Meet Laricobius osakensis. These seemingly harmless beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, are ruthless adelgid assassins. With voracious appetites, they feed exclusively on the HWA, targeting and then tearing into their white ovisacs.

Last month, USFS Southern Research Station biologist Bryan Mudder came to initiate the first stage of this long term study on our Hwy. 11 tree farm. Releasing 200 predatory beetles on infected hemlocks, his team will monitor the beetle and adelgid populations.

We are proud to offer our land and help the Forest Service advance scientific research on a plague that has crippled our Blue Ridge forests. We're keeping our fingers crossed and anxiously rooting for these hungry little beetles.

In true David and Goliath fashion, we're hoping that even the biggest problems can be tackled by the smallest solutions.


On the Web: Naturaland Trust

Related on the Tribune: Conservation groups partner to protect South Saluda River tract

(All photos appear courtesy of Mac Stone/Mac Stone Photography and have been reprinted here with permission.)


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