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Many once-dominant tree species no longer prevalent thanks to non-native species


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    WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WLOS) — Western North Carolina is home to millions of acres of forest land with more than 70 species of trees.

Many once-dominant tree species no longer prevalent in WNC thanks to non-native species

Forest experts say the health of the region’s trees is being put to the test.

“We are learning more and more that when you make an impact to one tree, it’s felt around the forest,” said Jonathan Marchal, director of education at the North Carolina Arboretum.

“If you would ask me that question 200 years ago, I would have had a different answer for you. This would have been a forest dominated by the American Chestnut,” said Marchal.

The once-dominant species of trees in North Carolina is no longer prevalent.

American Chestnuts were hit with a fungus called blight, which has lead to their demise.

It’s an example of what can happen to trees when non-native threats enter an ecosystem.

“When you have something new enter an ecosystem, it’s always a mystery. Is that thing just not going to take root, literally, or die off and you never see it again?” said Marchal.

When non-native trees or vines are introduced, and they do take root, they can begin to impact the native ecosystem, many times being seen as an invasive species.

“A lot of the invasive species that we have may be from Asia where their climates are fairly similar, but there are certain ecological checks, so something will eat it over there, or something keeps it from growing too large or too out of control,” said Marchal.

One infamous example of this in Western North Carolina is the Bradford Pear. While they may look good when they bloom, scientists have come to learn they are not a good tree for this environment.

In 2011, News 13 took footage of Asheville City crews removing problematic Bradford Pear trees. The City of Asheville no longer plants Bradford Pears.

City crews aren’t the only ones busy removing the ill-favored trees.

“We realized they were really weak-wooded. They were really brittle. They kind of became Frankensteins,” said Nich Maidment, the owner at Asheville Arborists.

Maidment says the Bradford Pear trees fall apart with time, causing problems for homeowners.

Not only are they structurally weak, but they spread quickly and impact native trees.

“The flowers started to cross-pollinate with our native pears and that’s kind of just as problematic,” said Maidment.

Aside from calls about Bradford Pears, Maidment says they are more frequently seeing issues with Ash Trees.

“Right now, we are dealing with a lot of Emerald Ash Borer that’s attacking and killing a lot of Ash Trees in the area,” said Maidment.

“With Emerald Ash Borer we may well lose Ash Trees in our forest ecosystem,” said Paul Merten, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Merten said the Emerald Ash Borer arrived in Buncombe County in 2017.

“It is one of several emerging pests that are not native to western North Carolina,” said Merten.

The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is another pest making home in and on Hemlock trees, destroying the trees with time.

Just last year, the Asian Longhorn Beetle was discovered in Charleston making home to Maple trees.

“The pests that are feeding on host trees here have no real enemies to control them, so they get out of bounds and they become an ecological and an economic problem,” said Merten.

The Forest Service says these and other pests are often transported through firewood, which is why they encourage people to only use local wood.

Merten said the key to suppressing the damage these pests can cause is through prevention, which is why he encourages anyone who comes across an unknown pest to report it.

“If you love your woods, it’s never a good thing to see new exotic non-native pest come to town,” said Merten.

Once these pests enter the forest, forest officials say there isn’t much that can be done to treat them, but there are residential treatments that can be used as a prevention method.

The best thing that can be done for impacted trees is to remove them as soon as possible.

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