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Summary of Workshop and Conclusions


Southern Appalachia has the most diverse ecosystem in the conterminous United States. There are over 150 species of trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is more than all of central Europe. There also a large number of amphibians, reptiles, flowers, and other animal and herbaceous species. This diversity is the single greatest attraction for tourism in the region. A history of cultural, economics and ecosystem intricacies have become interdependent on the diversity within the Appalachian mountains.

However, the natural heritage of southern Appalachia is being threatened by a number of exotic species. Native dogwood, Frasier fir, hemlock, and American chestnut have all been effected dramatically by accidentally introduced exotic pests (insects and diseases) -- dogwood anthracnose (disease), balsam woolly adelgid (insect), hemlock woolly adelgid (insect), and chestnut blight (disease) respectively.

Another example of devastation is presented by the gypsy moth, which was introduced by an entrepreneur who was seeking a silk business in the northeast United States. The gypsy moth defoliates oak trees. This European pest has migrated to northern Virginia from the New England States and is expected to be in northern Alabama by the year 2010. Oak trees not only provide economic benefit to timber economies but to tourism as well. (Oak trees provide much of the fall color which people travel to southern Appalachia to view.)

Through a collaborative effort between the US Geological Survey's Biological Resource Division and the Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere (SAMAB) Program -- organized by Chuck Parker and Phillip Gibson respectively, a workshop was held to disseminate and share information on the history of major exotic invasions (insect, diseases, and plants) effecting the Southern Appalachians and their biological control management strategies.


Exotic species and their impacts are issues which reach beyond political, disciplinary, economic, agency boundaries. Therefore, collaboration was sought by a number of experts from a variety of disciplines in both the public and private sectors. This collaborative workshop was funded jointly by the US Geological Survey's Biological Resources Division and a grant to SAMAB from the USDA National Biological Control Institute (NBCI).

USGS BRD's directive for "The Southern Appalachian Biological Control Initiative" is the outgrowth of a BRD grant, "Initiate Biological Control of Forest Pests." The proposal came from the National Park Service and originated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The BRD Natural Resources Protection Program funded the proposal. The grant was to the Southern Appalachian Field Laboratory (SAFL) of the Leetown Science Center. Chuck Parker, of the Great Smokies Field Station, an office of the SAFL, developed the work plan. The proposal calls upon BRD to establish a mechanism to coordinate the needs of Department of Interior land managers for biological control. The authors of the proposal felt that biological control of many serious forest pests were being given less emphasis than warranted by biological control practitioners, who traditionally are supported to study agriculturally or economically important species.

To ensure that the goals of the original proposal were met, the work plan called for a series of regional workshops to identify and rank the most serious pests in each region. A regional approach is necessary to prevent species that have invaded tens of thousands of hectares in one region, such as tamarisk in the West or melaleuca in South Florida, from overshadowing the importance of pests in other regions. This step requires input from land managers of national parks and forests, as well as, managers of state, private, and commercial lands. After the pests are ranked according to the threat they present to the resource, they are prioritized according to their potential as targets of biological control. This process requires the participation of authorities in biological control who can address those questions. Finally, the workshop participants are asked to recommend a plan of action to implement biological control against the targeted pest(s).

The initial workshop was held at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina. The Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) Program obtained additional financial support, organized by Phillip Gibson, for the workshop from the National Biological Control Institute (NBCI), a entity of the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Workshop Findings

Thirty-two federal, four state, six private, and 11 university representatives participated in the two day workshop. (Attendance sheet attached.) The first day was devoted to discussions about the most recent developments in biological control, invasive species, and DOI policies. On the second day, participants were assigned to one of six work groups. Group assignments were made by the workshop organizers to ensure that each group had a good mix of land managers and technical authorities, and of federal, state, private, and university participants.

The work groups were charged with identifying the most serious exotic pests in the region and ranking them according to their threat to the resource. The group leaders recorded the choices and the justifications for each choice. When the groups reconvened and compiled the rankings, it was found that each group had chosen the same pest, hemlock woolly adelgid, as the most significant threat facing Southern Appalachian forests. The second and third most serious pests also were broadly supported, although not unanimously. These were, respectively, balsam woolly adelgid and beech bark disease. Butternut canker was ranked fourth.

Another interesting result was that kudzu, an exotic vine that grows over all obstacles in its path throughout the Southeast, was chosen by two groups as the number one "political" pest. These groups felt that kudzu is perhaps the most visible, widely recognized pest in the region. Any effort to control kudzu, therefore, would generate tremendous public interest, serve as a valuable public education tool, and would help generate additional funding. Similar sentiments were expressed about the restoration of American chestnut. This used to be one of the most important hardwood species in the region before the blight all but eliminated it from the forests. It now exists as sprouts from still viable root stocks, but the sprouts succumb to the blight before reaching maturity. As with kudzu, it was felt that any efforts on behalf of American chestnut would generate valuable public support for biological control and would help generate additional funds for further research. Thus, kudzu was ranked fifth and chestnut blight was ranked sixth most serious pests.

Following the identification and ranking of the most serious pests in the region, it was necessary to examine the pests and determine the potential for each as a target of biocontrol. Then the pests were prioritized according to their severity ranking and their potential for control. The distinction between ranking and priorityis important. The potential of a species as a target of biological control is not a reflection of its pest status. A pest of relatively minor threat to an ecosystem may have excellent prospects for successful biological control. Alternatively, a serious threat to ecosystem integrity may have little or no prospects for successfulcontrol. Therefore, prioritizing pests once they have been ranked may result in a different ordering of the species. This process was more difficult than simply ranking the pests, and was debated for some time. Arguments were presented for and against each pest, and the pros and cons were tabulated. Finally, the group arrived at the consensus that hemlock woolly adelgid was the highest priority pest, in addition to being the highest ranked pest. But, the potential for and the value of chestnut restoration, and prospects of accomplishing something meaningful against kudzu resulted in those species being prioritized second and third, respectively.

Public education was made the second unanimous consensus in addition to hemlock woolly adelgid. It is the opinion of the participants that without strong educational efforts to support controls that might prevent additional threats from becoming established in this country, the battle against exotic species may not be winnable. In addition, it is the opinion of the participants that biological control is perhaps the single best option for long term control of widespread pest species. The role of public support for this approach is vital, and education is essential to achieve that support.

Plan of Action

The final task of the workshop was to recommend a plan of action. The BRD grant has available $75,000 in fiscal year 1997 and $125,000 in fiscal year 1998. The participants examined the priority list of species and the need for education and recommended the following. A total of $140,000 will be earmarked for research on hemlock woolly adelgid. Kudzu and chestnut blight research will be supported at $20,000 each, at $10,000 each per fiscal year. And, $20,000 will be set aside for education pending the approval of matching funds from other agencies and organizations. In the unlikely event those funds are not forthcoming, the money will go to the adelgid research.

The participants expressed satisfaction at the outcome. The organizers felt the process worked very well, and that the mix of people from different agencies and backgrounds was an important part of the success. Among federal agencies, representatives of the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the National Biological Control Institute, and the Agricultural Research Service indicated enthusiasm for the program and a desire to continue to participate with BRD on biological control and exotic species issues. Representatives of state forestry and biocontrol agencies also were strongly supportive, as were representativesof SAMAB and The Nature Conservancy.

An important goal of the original proposal is to establish a mechanism within DOI to coordinate the department's needs for biological control. We believe that the concept of holding regional workshops and building networks of land managers and biocontrol practitioners within ecoregions is a good basis for developing such a mechanism. The funding opportunities for research on biological control of exotic species are limited. By combining resources from different agencies and leveraging funding from a variety of sources, DOI can help ensure that the concerns of its land managers are addressed by the biological control community.


The spread and impacts of exotic species are expected to increase. Non-native species continue to be promoted by the private sector (i.e. the nursery industry). However, future funding for research on biological control (i.e. post-release monitoring) is expected to be limited.

These and other reasons constitute a dire need to build regional mechanisms throughout the United States which will promote collaboration, both technical and fiscal, to address exotic species and their management strategies. Additionally, success will be reliant upon the inclusion of the private sector in all ventures. As is the case with southern Appalachia, less than 18% of the land is owned or managed by the public sector. Southern Appalachia is also impacted from management throughout the eastern United States. Therefore, a comprehensive education program is needed to address the potential hazards of exotic species and appropriate strategies to ameliorate current and future impacts.

As a result of the workshop, an education strategy committee has been formed by Phillip Gibson to address the education need presented by the workshop participants. The committee is composed of a variety of technical and education professionals from both the public and private sectors. Given the history of some introductions -- accidentally through the nursery industry -- the committee views the pursuit of educating and promoting native plant use with both the nursery industry and consumers (general public) to be the primary objective. Due to the complexity and obvious long-term goals of this effort, the committee is seeking multi-year funding to fulfill this objective.


Any goal of this or future initiatives must include all parties of the ecosystem. The complexities and scope of work will be tremendous and will require the technical and fiscal support of everyone. This should also include experts from all disciplines of biological and social sciences. For example, managers of human health have not traditionally been involved with ecosystem management. Land management, however, plays a significant role in the emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases. The Office of Technology Assessment has documented the human health risks of some biological control.

Political, scientific, fiscal, and additional boundaries should become obstacles we work to overcome. This will promote true ecosystem management and accomplish the goals of all -including biological control.

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