White Pines, Hemlocks, and Sunlight

The Blue Valley Experimental Forest (Blue Valley) lies in southwest North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest. Located in Macon County, near the point where North Carolina meets Georgia and South Carolina, the experimental forest was established in 1964. At 1,300 acres, it is the smallest of the three experimental forests in North Carolina and the second smallest of the 19 managed by U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS).

Blue Valley’s landscape is dominated by eastern white pine, but also includes mixed hardwood and eastern hemlock stands. Experts believe extensive grazing and logging in the early 1900s contributed to the abundance of eastern white pine. The infertile soil is typical of the southern highlands. Buckberry, a type of huckleberry, is the most prevalent of the ericaceous (acid- loving) shrubs that dominate the forest understory.

Research studies at Blue Valley started in 1995, and included experiments on management practices such as single-tree selection cutting in white pine/hardwoods, shelterwood and prescribed burning in white pine/hardwoods, and dealing with bark beetle populations. Blue Valley continues to provide opportunities to study the fundamentals of white pine ecology (including seed production and dispersal), ericaceous shrubs, and the qualities of low-fertility sites.

Blue Valley is also the site of a more recent field experiment to investigate whether sunlighting – creating gaps to allow more light to reach the tops of trees – improves the health of hemlocks infested with hemlock woolly adelgid, the insect that’s already devastated hemlocks across the southern Appalachian region.

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