Catching Up - GSMNP   Robert Leverett
  Jun 27, 2007 09:28 PDT 


    Back from the Kentucky OG conference, the Smokies, and a drive
across all but 11 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Iím trying to catch
up and also recover from a computer crash. So ENTS e-mails will be catch
as catch can. But as my first stab at catching up, the following are
notes from June 19th and 20th. BTW, Iíll have much to say about the OG
conference and how successful I thought it was. Great job Neil!! I widh
more of you could have made it.

   On June 19th, Will Blozan, Jess Riddle, Tom Remaley, Monica Jakuc
Leverett, and myself hiked into an area of Cataloochee in the GSMNP. Tom
Remaley is the Park's forester/forest ecologist in charge of treating
the hemlocks, and so, he served as the official Park presence on the
trip. Our singular purpose was to treat the great Usis Hemlock with
Safari, a chemical that acts faster than Imidacloprid, but is none
persistent. In fact, the chemical is supposed to act in as little as 4
weeks and that is what Usis needs. BTW, Usis is a Cherokee word chosen
by Will and Jess. It means antler because of the many reiterations
evident in the big treeís architecture.

    Usis is located on the north side of Big Fork Ridge. The hike into
where the tree is located is off trail and between 0.6 and 0.8 miles.
Well, off trail isn't entirely the case. We followed an elk trail for
part of the way, but most ordinary hikers would say all of the trek was
off trail. The total elevation gain to the Usis tree is about 450 feet,
so it isnít strenuous in that way. But there are occasionally large logs
to cross over and a couple of steep spots, so the equivalent level trail
distance is considerably more than the straight-line map distance. In
addition, the day was humid with the threat of a thunderstorm. We
escaped getting wet other than by sweat and there was plenty of that for
me. A veritable river ran down my spine and made it look like I had had
an accident.

   There were a few big trees along the way that teased me, but our
target couldn't wait long. Our time was limited. Besides Usis is a much
larger hemlock than the ones we were passing. Nonetheless, I paused to
measure a large white oak that Will pointed out. It proved to be a very
respectable 13.9 feet in girth and 111.6 feet in height. It was an
isolated large tree in the area. We also passed a couple of fairly large
tulips along the path, but Will saw nothing special about them. I was
jealous. The trees on the way to Usis were "ordinary stuff" to Will and
Jess and merited no special attention.

   When we arrived in the vicinity of the Usis tree, it stood boldly and
alone at the bottom of a ravine. Its immense bulk made it impossible to
miss. In fact, it almost seemed out of place. Its 15.4-foot girth
surpassed all other trees in the vicinity with the exception of a tulip
poplar up the ridge that appeared to be close to the same Ė maybe
slightly smaller. However, all trees in the area, including the tulip,
bow to the Usis tree when it comes to stature. At 173.1 feet, Usis is
the tallest known Eastern Hemlock on the planet. Will climbed Usis in
2-15-2007 and did a tape drop measurement. So Usis's exact height is not
in question. His prior laser measurements of Usis were 172.5 and 172.9.
Usis has a nested top that Will couldnít easily see from the ground.
Even so, the trigonometry-based measurements of Usis exhibit the
extraordinary ground-based accuracy achieved by ENTS.

    The trip also logged another first. By Willís reckoning, Monica is
the first female to see Usis and understand what she was looking at.
Naturally, I think that is way cool. My wife was the first to see Usis
and witness its treatment by Will. I didnít ask Monica what she thought
of the big tree. Her private thoughts about trees deserve respect.
Satisfying my curiosity does not add value. However, I can be sure that
she loves the big tree and sends it positive thoughts.

    Besides its height, the Usis Hemlock stands out in another way. It
has been modeled by Will and Jess to 1534 cubic feet of trunk and
reiterations volume. Small limbs and reiterations, and branches will add
up to another 60 to 70 cubes. So, the total volume of Usis definitely
reaches 1600 cubes or about double the very largest of the northeastern
hemlocks. Yet, Usis isn't the largest hemlock that Will and Jess have
modeled. In fact, it presently ranks #4 behind the Caldwell Giant,
Laurel Branch leviathan, and Cheoah Hemlock. All are slightly larger
than Usis, but none are taller. Usis is at the top of the tall hemlocks
list. It exceeds the northeastern height champion in Cook Forest by 27.7
feet. It exceeds the New England champion by 34 feet. In my humble
opinion, Usis is a phenomenon. But then, all the giant hemlocks of the
Smokies represent a class of phenomena.

     I hope that the Usis tree will survive. Its off-trail location
insures its safety from human visitation, but the hemlock woolly adelgid
honors no boundaries. Usisís unsurpassed stature justifies our treatment
of the tree although very few people will ever see it. That Usis exists
in a cove of the Smokies bears testament to the better side of human
race. We havenít yet destroyed all vestiges of the natural world,
although weíre well on the way and I dare say that Usis would be
exploited by many if shown a way. Best that Usis enjoy a high level of

     Other treats of the hike up to the Usis tree included some fairly
impressive plant colonies. We saw many herbs including American gensing,
Likapodium, trilliums (already bloomed), and other species that were
distributed in the clumps characteristic of well developed old-growth
woodlands. Oh yes, and Monica saw her first squaw root, a parasite on
oak roots. We also encountered a juvenile northern water snake, which
Tom identified for us. The Smokies are rich in varieties of reptiles and
amphibians. But it is the sheer number of flowering plants is the
superlativeís superlative. The count is approaching 1,900 and that
number is distributed over a modest 800 square miles. The Smokies are
the gem of the Appalachians for vegetative abundance.

June 20,

      Will, Monica, and I headed to Big Creek in Cataloochee Valley,
site of some very impressive second-growth forests. The drainage we
headed up is fairly gentle. The lower elevations were once old fields,
but large boulders near a small stream farther up creates rugged terrain
that protects trees. Throughout, young tulips dominate, perhaps 75 years
old and less well up into the drainage. Near the bottom, tree ages are
probably not more than 50 years. Old-field signs are evident. On the
forest floor, that ubiquitous pest, poison ivy, is generously
distributed. However, herbs such as yellow trilliums are also abundant
and rich woods species such as maiden hair fern are everywhere to be

     Shortly after climbing into the drainage, Will measured a fairly
young sycamore to an impressive 157.3 feet in height and 10 feet in
girth, which is a large girth for the young trees in the grove. But
overall, sycamores were scarce. Not so the tulips. They were all around
us, and though young, some held promise of significant height. We needed
to do some measuring. So Monica positioned herself at the base of a
large rock and meditated while Will and I went to work. To make a long
story short, the king of the lower cove appears to be a 165.6-ft tall,
7.1-ft girth tree. The tulip is impressive in terms of height, but
obviously not girth. However, Will has measured a much larger tulip
higher in the cove. He has one at 177feet tall and 12 feet around. The
cove is going to be a place to monitor.

    Outside the lone sycamore and the abundant tulips, Will shared a
large red oak that he previously found. Its 16.6-ft girth and 120-foot
height makes an impression and reminds one of the superlative nature of
the original cove forests of the Smokies. Big Creek once had big trees.

    On our way back, a special treat awaited us. Monica spotted a bull
elk close to the trail. It looked at us and returned to browsing. The
elk was a handsome fellow with a decent rack. I judge he weighed around
500 lbs. Seeing the bull elk reminded me of tales of the Smoky Mountain
past when the eastern elk occupied the area. The community of Elkmont in
the Smokies may derive its name from the elk of the eastern forest.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society
Re: Catching Up   Jess Riddle
  Jul 29, 2007 16:02 PDT 


Yes, your understanding of how the insecticides will be used is
essentially correct. Safari will be able to stabilize trees that have
already declined significantly, and imidacloprid will be used for
longer term protection. In actual application, it is likely that
large scale treatments will shift to the healthiest remaining trees
since imidacloprid is far less expensive, and the Safari will only be
used to save high value individuals.



I am glad you had a good trip. I hope the Usis Hemlock survives. So is
this Safari a first aid for critical trees with longer term treatment via