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Apr. 16—FINZEL SWAMP — A project that began with the killing of some trees aims to help thousands of new saplings survive.
In the fall, The Nature Conservancy and Allegany College of Maryland teamed to increase genetic diversity of red spruce in the central Appalachian Mountain range.
At that time, ACM forestry students were at TNC's Finzel Swamp Preserve in Frostburg where they applied herbicide to the insides of locust trees, which killed them to prevent their competition with future red spruce saplings.
"Greater genetic diversity within the restored sites will enable the species to have more capacity to adapt to the changes in climate," Katy Barlow, restoration manager for TNC's Central Appalachians Program, said at that time.
The project, sponsored by a Wildlife Conservation Society's Climate Adaptation Fund grant, covered 255 acres in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Deborah Landau, conservation ecologist for the Maryland chapter of The Nature Conservancy, helped select the location and oversaw the planting of new saplings last week.
"My job is ecological restoration of our Maryland preserves, and this is a project I'm really excited to be a part of," she said via email. "We're hoping this planting will lead to a healthier and more genetically diverse red spruce community."
A study conducted at the Appalachian Lab in Frostburg and the University of Vermont found that Finzel Swamp had the most genetically isolated red spruce in all its range, "making our red spruce extremely vulnerable to stressors, such as climate change," Landau said.
In addition to being part of the genetics study, the project provided an excellent way to restore a degraded field, she said.
"For years TNC has been working to control the (invasive plants) in the field, such as autumn olive, bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose," Landau said. "But in recent years the field was quickly being overtaken by locust trees."
Andy Maraffa is an environmental scientist at AllStar Ecology, LLC. in Fairmont, West Virginia.
He led the planting crew for the recent project.
"Overall the sites were pretty good as far as conditions go," he said via email. "We had nice sunny weather for all but one day."
While the Finzel site was a bit rocky in areas, the crew faced another challenge.
"The one morning we came out to find a bear had gotten curious about our boxes of trees overnight and tore into one of them," Maraffa said. "He was kind enough to spare the trees and just chewed up the cardboard."
Adam W. Miller is a forester at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources forest service.
He helped connect the ACM forestry students for the fall herbicide treatment of unwanted vegetation, and assisted in the process to hire a mowing contractor.
"Overall it was a pleasure to partner with TNC during this project," he said. "I am excited to see how the red spruce respond in the Finzel area. I will also plan to do a survival check in the fall to see how successful the planting was."