At high elevations pure stands of American beech trees are know as beech gaps. Beech bark disease, a complex made up of the beech scale insect cryptococcus fagisuga and a closely associated fungus Nectria coccinea var. faginata poses a serious threat to this community. Most all of the beech gap communities in and around the Great Smokies have succumbed to the beech bark disease or a combination of the disease, pests and pollution. This trend is being felt throughout the southern Appalachians, with the possible extinction of this forest community in the next few years. The beech gap community is assigned a Global Conservation Status Rank of G1. A G1 ranking translates to – Critically Imperiled—At very high risk of extinction due to extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations), very steep declines, or other factors.
During my Roan Highlands workshop this past weekend I found that one of my favorite locations to spend time studying and photographing in is sick, very sick. It looks to be a really tragic end to another huge beech gap. I’ve thought that this location was OK in terms of health with good leaf coverage and little tree kill. This year is drastically different. It looks like 70% to 80% of the beech trees have not leafed out and this is not good. It all happened in one years time. Not sure until the botanists get in to the location and study the trees. The way I see it is this, the trees will not survive if they do not leaf out and this was not a gradual die-off. It is real sad to see one of the largest beech gaps remaining in the southern Appalachians succumb to the disease. Over the next couple of years we will see this forest community make a dramatic shift and those beautiful flowing grasses will eventually die off as well. This was a very sad day for me and for those that have felt the same connection to such a unique ecosystem. I’ll be posting more images from this location over the coming months. My intent is to personally document, in stills and in motion, its transition, and to bring botanists, biologists, photographers and other scientists to this location as well. Maybe, just maybe, there is a slim chance that there could be a recovery but the cards are stacked against this notion.
At least I did have the chance to spend the past few years working and bringing friends and colleagues into this wondrous location. And I can say for certain, every person that witnessed this community first-hand came home with a strong connection with this unique and beautiful place.
Canon EOS 5DmkII w/ TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II