June 29 – A Milestone For Our National Forests

June 29 – A Milestone For Our National Forests

June 29 – A Milestone For Our National Forests

Upper Creek Falls on Upper Creek (part of the Catawba River watershed) in the Pisgah National Forest. Photo by Ken Thomas

Monday, June 29, 2020 MountainTrue delivered more than 600 public comments on the Draft Management Plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests that were generated through our online commenting portals and cards that we handed out at trailheads. This moment marked a major milestone in a six-year public campaign to win a better Forest Management Plan. 

In that time, MountainTrue members and supporters have generated thousands of comments throughout the different phases of the plan, and MountainTrue staff have spent tens of thousands of hours in the field, reviewing planning drafts and documents, working with stakeholders and drafting formal comments. We organized four panel events across Western North Carolina and six more on-line virtual info sessions since the COVID-19 lockdown.

MountainTrue was also a key collaborator and signer of the 107-page comment letter from the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership. Through our participation in the Partnership, we’re proud to have helped foster a collaborative spirit among a broad set of forest user groups that we hope will last well into the future. We also helped draft 326 pages of legal and technical comments in partnership with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife to guide the Forest Service in their drafting of a final plan.  

Let us take this moment to celebrate each other for our collective hard work. Great job! And let’s hope that it all pays off with a great Management Plan that protects our forest ecosystems, helps sustain our region’s economy and provides our community with wonderful places to work, play and rejuvenate.

Ash Re-Treatments Underway

Ash Re-Treatments Underway

Ash Re-Treatments Underway

Over the past few years, MountainTrue has taken on the task of identifying and treating priority ash groves around WNC in response to the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer. This non-native invasive insect is wreaking havoc throughout the state, and many of the trees we have treated are surrounded by bare branches from neighboring dead ashes. We have treated over 1,100 trees throughout the region, and committed to re-treating these trees after their initial 3-year treatment wears off.

So far, we have retreated over 100 trees in a beautiful grove on Bluff Mountain in Madison County, along the Appalachian Trail. The trees we have treated have a bright painted dot on the farside of the tree that isn’t visible from the trail. No need to look for the paint, though. These trees are surrounded by diverse wildflowers that shouldn’t be trampled. If you see a living ash tree on Bluff, it’s probably been treated.  

We will also be establishing a new site above 4,000 feet in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest. This area does not yet have any treated groves of ash, and the new site will add to the representation of preserved groves across the landscape.

If you are interested in helping us continue to save these populations, learning about the treatment, or just want to get involved, contact us at josh@mountaintrue.org. 

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

Each year, MountainTrue hosts a BioBlitz to record all the species we can find in a given area. Typically, we gather around 50 naturalists and novices together and document 300-500 species in a day. This year, we were unable to gather in person, so we used iNaturalist, an online app for identifying and cataloguing organisms. 

We were also grateful not to take this on alone. We teamed up with Madison Natural Heritage, a new digital archive featuring the rich diversity of Madison County, and decided to focus within the county to help populate their data set.

We were blown away to find that 97 observers documented 2,618 organisms and 1,186 unique species, including at least one that has never been documented in the county. Also among these finds were several threatened and rare species (don’t worry- the locations are hidden for those observations). We have more than doubled our record species count for past BioBlitzes, and couldn’t have done it without you! We also had record youth engagement, and were able to provide prizes for every student who participated.

Some species to note include the small spreading pogonia, a showy native orchid that is rare in NC. The golden banded skipper is a lovely butterfly that is rare enough to be considered mythical by some enthusiasts who have yet to see one. Moss phlox, also called Mountain Pink, is a critically imperiled species in the state that was willing to let one participants snap a photo of its fuschia flower. Fen orchid is an endangered flower in the state, which had never before been found in Madison county. The hunt also turned up many vulnerable and near threatened species, including the Carolina Mountain Dusky salamander and the Stygian Shadowdragon dragonfly. All of these observations are research grade, and can contribute vital information on population levels for some of these very special species. To check out all the observations, check out our iNaturalist Project

What’s next for this data? Madison Natural Heritage is a new project of the Madison County Library, aiming to engage kids, students, scholars, citizens and visitors in discovering the natural wonder of the county. The data we’ve collected will help to populate their archive of scientific data. To learn more, visit madisonnaturalheritage.org.

A huge, shout-it-from-the-rooftops THANK YOU to everyone who participated and made this BioBlitz so successful. We hope next year we can get together and celebrate in person, but for now, y’all rock!

Introducing Madison County Natural Heritage

Introducing Madison County Natural Heritage

Written by Pete Dixon of Madison Natural Heritage

Madison Natural Heritage is excited to partner with MountainTrue for the 2020 Madison County BioBlitz aimed at creating a biological inventory of all of Madison County. Madison Natural Heritage is a new educational project, recently started by the Madison County Public Library system. This interactive digital project will serve as a natural history museum to engage students, scholars and citizens and to collect and archive data about the rich and cherished natural world in Madison County.

The library system’s interim director, Peggy Goforth, is excited to share her love for the county with the children who utilize the libraries. “Because Madison County is so special and unique” Goforth says, “it is critical that we instill in our children the knowledge to preserve and maintain this beautiful place that we love and call home.” Her fierce love of Madison County is shared by residents across the county and is reinforced by biologists throughout the state who believe it to be extremely unique. When asked about Madison County, retired state naturalist Harry LeGrande said, “[it] may be the single most important county in the NC mountains for the state’s biological diversity.”

Pete Dixon, of Madison Natural Heritage, and Josh Kelly, Public Lands Biologist at MountainTrue, work to identify plants species for the Madison County BioBlitz.

Madison Natural Heritage will use available database technology, such as iNaturalist, eBird, and the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, to capture natural science data. These tools will allow Madison County students to learn how to digitally log data using citizen science techniques while exploring the extraordinary environment surrounding them. Madison Natural Heritage is carefully coordinating with schools to make sure it supports their goals and doesn’t replicate existing programs.

The Madison County Library System is primed to take on such an innovative project, which could pave the way for similar initiatives in other counties and states. Having been awarded “The Best Small Library in America” title by Library Journal in 2018, Madison County residents know what community commitment and a strong library staff can achieve. By taking on the Madison Natural Heritage project on the tailwinds of its recent national recognition, the Madison County Library System has the opportunity to put Madison County on the national map again by creating countywide programming that involves young people in the growing field of citizen science and curating an exhibition of the county’s rich natural heritage. 

To kick off this exciting new initiative, Madison Natural Heritage and MountainTrue are sponsoring a county-wide BioBlitz from June 6th through June 20. A Bioblitz is an organized effort to document as much biology in one place during a set time as is possible. In other words, it’s like a scavenger hunt for the whole community focused on finding any and all living things: birds, plants, insects, fish, mammals, etc. Anyone can join by signing up here. Kids are especially welcome.

For more information about Madison Natural Heritage, email Pete Dixon at pete@madnatural.org or visit https://madisonnaturalheritage.org/.

iNaturalist How-to

iNaturalist How-to

Our 2020 BioBlitz: Powered by iNaturalist

Every year, MountainTrue hosts a BioBlitz event where we gather experts, enthusiasts and lifelong learners together to document every living organism we can find in a given area. This year, we still want to bring people together to learn, even if we can’t grab a beer together afterwards. To make this happen, we are pulling out a tool that our team has used for years, and many of you may be familiar with — iNaturalist.

If you’re already familiar with iNaturalist, scroll down for specific instructions on how to join our BioBlitz Project.

iNaturalist is a citizen-science tool used to collect and verify data on biodiversity. Individual users upload observations, which are checked by other users and experts, and then added into a massive database of information. This data becomes publicly available, making it useful for scientists, researchers, students and enthusiasts to use for various purposes and projects. It is one of the most popular tools out there, with over a million users, and has useful functions for any level of learner, from novice to expert.

Check out this bat from Madagascar! People all over the world use this app to identify and document species ranging from the ultra rare to the everyday.

Anyone with a smartphone or computer can use this app by downloading it on the app store or visiting iNaturalist.org. They have great video tutorials for both first-time and experienced users on their Getting Started page. The basics are simple: take a photo of a living thing, upload it, and iNaturalist can help you identify what it might be. The more pictures you add, the better it works. For the best identification, try to take up-close shots of different parts of the plant or animal.

Once your files are uploaded, other people from around the world can confirm your identification or take a guess if you have no clue. And if you’re a botanical enthusiast, you can help others learn by identifying their uploads!

If you’re looking for an even simpler version of this interface, there are multiple spin off apps that are generally designed to help kids and students engage with the natural world. Seek is an app that gives more guided (and simplified) instructions. EcoExplore helps kids make their own observations, and offers ipad rentals through local libraries to make citizen science more accessible. Both of these programs upload their data to the iNaturalist platform, and all can be used for our BioBlitz!

With just a single picture, iNaturalist can often help you narrow down what you’re seeing. Each suggested species comes with identification information that can help you confirm your find and know what to look for next time!

Whether you’ve used iNaturalist hundreds of times or have never heard of it, we’re hoping you’ll join us in this year’s BioBlitz. We are partnering with Madison Natural Heritage, a new program that aims to compile all available biodiversity data for Madison County, and make it accessible to students, teachers, and the general public. Our BioBlitz is a chance to help populate their data set with your observations! For more information, please visit http://madisonnaturalheritage.org/2020-bioblitz/ and sign up to get more information on how to participate. Happy hunting!


Specific Instructions for Joining our 2020 BioBlitz Project:

The first step is to create an account with iNaturalist. This is easily accessible on the app or web browser, and your account will be viewable under the “Me” tab on the app, or the upper right corner on the website. 

Once you have an account and are logged in, you can start joining projects. Follow our link (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/madison-county-2020-bioblitz) or search for “Madison County 2020 Bioblitz” in the main search bar at the top of the website.  Once you’ve found our project, hit “Join” in the About section on the website view. On the app, you can either search for this project through the search bar in the “Explore” tab, or on the “More” tab, under “Projects.” It may be necessary to scroll down to make the search bar visible on the “Projects” page. Once you’ve joined, you should be able to follow along and see what observations others are making!

Our iNaturalist Project is designed to capture all observations uploaded in Madison County between June 6th and June 20th — even if you haven’t joined our specific project. This allows us to capture uploads from the EcoExplore and Seek apps as well.

If you are having difficulty accessing our Project or have other questions, please contact forestkeeper@mountaintrue.org. We’re here to help. Thanks for learning with us!


Our Scavenger Hunts Will Help You Learn About Your Neighborhood’s Native and Invasive Species

Our Scavenger Hunts Will Help You Learn About Your Neighborhood’s Native and Invasive Species

These days, many of us are spending more time at home. Now that the weather is warming up, we hope you get the chance to get outside and explore your neighborhood! The next time you’re out for a stroll, we hope you’ll consider taking along one of our scavenger hunts to learn a thing or two about your neighborhood!

To start, we’d like to challenge you to keep an eye out for something that doesn’t belong — non-native invasive plants. At MountainTrue, much of our work on public lands is dominated by concerns about invasive plants, and we’ve spent thousands of hours removing them from our most important forest areas. However, it is far easier to stop these species before they take root, and our yards are often the source. If you’d like to get involved, the first step is to learn what to look out for by downloading our Neighborhood Invasives Scavenger Hunt!

We’d also like to better acquaint you with 10 native species that often grace our urban and suburban areas, with our Introduction to Neighborhood Natives Scavenger Hunt. We hope to help you identify these species if you aren’t familiar with them, or simply share some fun facts for you more experienced botanists! If you’re not so interested in plants, we’ve also created a Native Birds Scavenger Hunt to learn about some of our most common neighborhood visitors.  

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to explore your local environment with us. Tag us on social media (@mtntrue) with your finds, and happy hunting!

Download by clicking on the image below.

Invasives Scavenger Hunt

Natives Scavenger Hunt

Bird Scavenger Hunt