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Hemlock Ecology

Hemlocks are well-known and loved for the beauty they bring to hiking trails, campsites, and residential landscapes across the eastern U.S. Twenty-one percent of the United States’ national parks contain hemlock trees. This includes the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that passes near the University of North Georgia (Dahlonega).

Eastern hemlocks are an evergreen tree, found primarily in riparian zones, which can live up to 800+ years. They are very shade tolerant and provide a dense canopy that helps maintain moisture and moderate forest floor and stream temperatures.

Cool mountain streams are needed for trout and other native fish, aquatic insects, salamanders, and crawfish. Moderate forest floor temperatures and thick boughs provide shelter during the winter for many birds and mammals. Some birds rely on hemlocks alone for nesting.

When these trees are removed from the ecosystem, there are a variety of effects. This can include increased water temperature and increased algal growth. This causes negative consequences to the biodiversity and health of watersheds, fisheries, and terrestrial habitats.

The loss of hemlocks will also result in an immense economic loss as areas lose part of their aesthetic appeal. These recreational venues may experience lower income from visiting hikers, fishers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Hemlock loss also has the potential to significantly lower property values. Stands of dead trees create wildfire hazards and fall across trails and roads, all of which have a significant cost to remedy.

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