Roan Massif and the Race to Preserve it


Great Pyrenees tending to the flock, Baa-tany Goat Program, Roan Highlands 

The Roan Massif, which includes the longest continuous stretch of high-mountain grassy balds in the Southern Appalachians, sits along the borders of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Also Roan Massif contains in one of the most dense stands of coniferous forests in the southern Appalachians, and most notably, the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden. The combination of geology, topography and climate results in one of the most diverse displays of plant and animal species in the entire Southern Appalachian range. The Roan Massif is home to a host of threatened and endangered plants like the beautiful Gray’s lily, Roan Mountain bluet and spreading avens. Many other rare species, from the pygmy salamander, spruce-fir moss spider, and the northern saw-whet owl, add to its natural abundance. The Roan Massif is globally-rare, critically imperiled plant communities with a global rank of G1, the rarest ranking available. 

Angora wether, a castrated male sheep, Baa-tany Goat Program, restoring the Roan's western grassy bald corridors, Roan Highlands                             

 Over the past 100+ years the forests have been encroaching on the open grassy balds. Threatening to erase these wonderful sky islands from their very existence. Botanists like Jamey Donaldson, Project Coordinator and research botanist, believe that the decline of the balds is due to changes in soil and climate and the loss of large herbivores, all of these factors make them more welcoming to the woody plant incursions such as the main target, the Canada blackberry. Estimates suggest that more than 75% of Roan’s Grassy Balds have disappeared in less than 100 years with most of the loss occurring in the last 50 years.  

The Baa-tany Goat Project uses Angora goats as a surrogate for the absent herbivores and also offers the scientific study of the program. This experimental program is operating under a special use permit and volunteer agreement with the USDA Forest Service. Goats were chosen because they prefer to eat woody plants rather than the grasses. The goats are restoring a natural process that has been absent on the balds for decades. 

Angoras are a fiber goat (source of mohair) rather than a meat or dairy goat. More than half of the goats were donated by a northern Virginia woman who preferred giving her friends a retirement plan rather than sending them to market and ultimately being slaughter. Todd Eastin, a partner in this project, donated the remaining goats. All the goats that went up on the balds are guaranteed a retirement plan and will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. 

The success of this programs relies on good research and the funding to sustain the welfare of the main subjects, the Angoras. Oh, and we don’t want to forget the wonderful caretakers and security guards of the goats, brothers Ian and Baxter, the resident Great Pyrenees. Please feel free to visit the Angoras, Ian and Baxter, Todd and Jamey. Also, please visit and adopt one or even more of the Angoras. Even though the program has sponsors and received grants it is not enough to ensure that the program will continue. The Baa-tany Goat Program needs your help so please visit the Friends of Roan website, download and fill out the adoption form, write a check and send it in. Lets insure the continuation of this great program to restore and maintain the wonderful Roan balds for generations to come.

 Angora kid on the job, Baa-tany Goat Program, restoring the Roan's western grassy bald corridors, Roan Highlands

Whiteoak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park

Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve been so busy that I have not posted to the blog in weeks. I do apologize and I can only promise that it will get better. My Blue Ridge book project is coming down to the wire and I’m just doing all I can to fill in those areas that I’m missing but feel that they need to be represented. Please bear with me, I have about six weeks before the shooting is finished and the design phase really gets cooking. Anyway, I have a little time tonight and I thought that I would post some of my new images taken over the past few weeks. These are from my trip to Whiteoak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Park.

Thanks so much for stopping by for a visit! Feel free to comment and enjoy the photographs.


Spring forest and canyon walls, Whiteoak Canyon, Shenandoah Nati

Whiteoak Falls_upper_spring fog 1

Spring flow, Whiteoak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Goodbye Winter!

Well, it has been a while since I’ve posted to my blog and please accept my apologies for my negligence. It has been a very busy few months with all of the new books and calendars that we are releasing at Mountain Trail Press. Also, having a 13-month old little girl takes a lot of my free time. So, with this post I thought that I would post a few of my favorite winter images that I’ve taken over these cold months. Let me know what you like or dislike about the images. Thanks in advance for your responses.

Snowy beech forest, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee

This photograph was taken in the Cherokee National Forest during one our best snowstorms of the season. I wish that we could’ve had a few more inches and a few extra days to shoot it. This next image is the same area, I’m enamored with the winter beech leaves!

Snow accentuates the winter beech trees, Cherokee National Fores

How about another!

Snow blankets the forest along Rocky Fork, Unicoi County, Tennes

You’re not going to believe this! TVA has done it (COAL SLUDGE RELEASE) for the third time in a month! What the HELL is their problem!!

This is a release sent to me by my friend Chris Joyell of Wild South:

Tennessee: State cites TVA for Ocoee sludge release at Olympic site

By: Ron Clayton

By: Pam Sohn
Included in this article
Audio      Video
TimesFreePress Audio
Jim Herrig
– Download MP3 –

OCOEE, Tenn. — A deliberate TVA sludge release last weekend on the Ocoee River killed fish and aquatic life in the once-dead but now-recuperating Ocoee River, prompting a state investigation that on Friday brought a citation and new cleanup order against the already embattled Tennessee Valley Authority.

Now state and Cherokee National Forest officials are awaiting lab results from sludge samples, fearing that the mud, piled for decades behind the dam that separated the Ocoee from copper mining residue, may contain toxins such as PCBs and heavy metals.

“It didn’t look like normal releases,” said Jim Herrig, a U.S. Forest Service biologist, adding that officials hope to get results on the samples next week.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said state water regulators cited TVA with violations of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act after bottom sediment from Ocoee Dam #3 was sluiced into the river.

The black and foul-smelling sludge “overwhelmed the river and the Olympic whitewater area of the Ocoee in some places more than three feet deep,” Ms. Calabrese-Benton said.

PDF: TDEC’s notice of volation to TVA

Article: Polk County: Fish swimming again in Ocoee

The Ocoee River, devoid of life for nearly 100 years because of copper mining pollution, had begun show life again in the past five years after mining was halted and a Superfund cleanup had begun.

“We were just now documenting a very significant comeback,” Mr. Herrig said. “I’m disappointed. I’ve spoken to other biologist with TVA and they are concerned also. I think TVA will be doing some investigating of their own.”

TVA spokesmen Jim Allen and Barbara Martocci said they did not know why water was released from the bottom of Ocoee Dam #3 rather than the top, as is customary. Nor did they know how much water and sediment was released.

Ms. Martocci said TVA was drawing down the water behind the dam in preparation for repair work on the downstream Ocoee Dam #2 and in case of heavy rains. She said the move was for the safety of the crews working on Dam #2 and to give the workers time to get their equipment out if heavy rain came.

“We didn’t realize how much sediment was in it,” she said. “Some of the sediment was pulled with the water through the sluice gate.”

In the notice of violation, TDEC’s Chattanooga water pollution control manager, Richard Urban, said the state had received no permit requests or even inquiries about the “special operations” of the Ocoee series of dams and powerhouses.

“Due to the magnitude of the Ocoee, which flows to the Hiwassee and then to the Tennessee rivers, it was selected as the site for the 1996 Olympic whitewater events,” he wrote. “Thousands of people travel to the region each year to run the Ocoee rapids and swim. The river flows out of Georgia, and there it is called the Toccoa.

“Fish were killed and washed downstream or killed and buried in the mud/sludge/ooze,” he wrote. “No live fish were seen.”

Mr. Allen said TVA did not need permits for general maintenance work.

Mr. Herrig said some of the walkways were covered by the sludge, but the heavy rains Wednesday had eventually swept the material downstream. By Friday, the lower Ocoee appeared muddy, but Mr. Herrig said that was normal after so much rain.

Because of the clearing rains, he said Forest Service officials had not posted or roped off any areas of the Ocoee.

Ms. Martocci said TVA officials will determine what happened “to make sure it does not happen again, and we’ll respond accordingly to the notice (of violation).”

TDEC is giving TVA until Jan. 22 to submit a plan for restoring the river.

Christopher Joyell
Wild South, Strategy & Communications Director
16 Eagle St., Suite 200
Asheville, NC 28801
tel: 828.258.2667

Senate boosts wilderness protection across US! Yes, now we can get some protection for our wildlands!

This is an awesome start! The great thing is we don’t even have our new President yet! Read the full story here!

Thanks Senators! We need to keep moving in the right direction.

Photos from the Kingston/Harriman, TN disaster site

Hey all,

I’ve quickly been getting these images processed and out to the groups that need them to help educate the public about this disaster. It really disturbing how some, even geologists, are taking the stance that coal fly ash is not toxic or even hazardous.  They are even saying that the enormous spill poses no threat to the environment. I really cannot understand these viewpoints. What about the 400+ acres of land and water that are now under millions of tons of coal fly ash sludge? Even if it was not toxic this land and the people that live here are now changed forever. The wildlife and aquatic life in and around the spill area will be affected  for generations.

Appalachian State University has released preliminary independent tests finding high levels of toxic chemicals in the Harriman/Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash deposits. According to the tests, arsenic levels from the Kingston power plant intake canal tested at close to 300 times the allowable amounts in drinking water, while a sample from two miles downstream still revealed arsenic at approximately 30 times the allowed limits. Lead was present at between twice to 21 times the legal drinking water limits, and thallium levels tested at three to four times the allowable amounts. All water samples were found to contain elevated levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and thallium. The samples were taken from the immediate area of the coal waste spill, in front of the Kingston Fossil plant intake canal just downstream from the spill site, and at a power line crossing two miles downstream from the spill. Dr. Carol Babyak, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Appalachian State University stated, “I have never seen levels of arsenic, lead and copper this high in natural waters.”  These test findings should silence those that make those ridiculous statements of “coal fly ash is not toxic”!

Here are a few of the photographs that I took around the site one week ago.

I just returned from the Kingston Fossil Plant Disaster!

Well, the visit was a very educational one, to say the least! Police everywhere with no access permitted. I had to make my images from accross the lake with a 400mm lens. I’ll be posting them as I get them digitally processed. Here’s a 180-degree panoramic, made by stitching multiple images together in Photoshop.  I shot the images with my Canon Powershot G9, love this little camera! Also, here’s the latest information on the disaster.


A coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee that experts were already calling the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States is more than three times as large as initially estimated, according to an updated survey by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Officials at the authority initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, about 40 miles west of Knoxville, gave way on Monday. But on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep.

The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

A test of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders, said John Moulton, a spokesman for the T.V.A., which owns the electrical generating plant, one of the authority’s largest.

Mr. Moulton said Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.

Mercury and arsenic, he said, were “barely detectable” in the samples.

The ash pond was adjacent to the Emory River and near a residential area, where three houses were destroyed by the tide of muddy ash. Water sampled several miles downstream from the spill was safe to drink, but its iron and manganese content exceeded the secondary drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which govern taste and odor but not potential health effects, Mr. Moulton said.

Neither the authority nor the E.P.A. has released the results of tests of soil or the ash itself. Authority officials have said that the ash is not harmful, and the authority has not warned residents of potential dangers, though federal studies show that coal ash can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and carcinogens.

“You’re not going to be endangered by touching the ash material,” said Barbara Martocci, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A. “You’d have to eat it. You have to get it in your body.”

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also released a statement saying there was no indication of risk unless the ash was ingested.

But residents like Deanna Copeland were thinking further into the future.

“Our concern is, what happens if this liquid dries out?” Ms. Copeland said. “There are huge health concerns. It’s going to get in our house. We’re going to breathe it in. It would be like walking through a dust bowl, and we don’t know what’s in the dust.”

A round-the-clock cleanup effort continued on Friday, much of it clearing roads and railway tracks that were blocked by the sludge. Several booms, or skimmers, were installed on nearby rivers to catch floating cenospheres, a valuable component of the ash used to make bowling balls and other manufactured goods. A weir, or underwater dam, that would keep settled ash from moving downstream was about one-fifth completed,
T.V.A. officials said.

Some nearby residents said that the authority had done little to address their concerns.

“We’re terribly frustrated,” said Donald Smith, 58, a laboratory facilities manager who lives in the affected area. “It seems like T.V.A. is just throwing darts at the problem, and they don’t have a clue how to really fix it.

“It was nice that they came by to talk to us. They’re making an effort. But what upsets me is they didn’t have a plan in place. Why hadn’t anybody thought, `What happens if this thing bursts?’ ”

Residents said they were stunned by the new figure for the size of the spill.

“That’s scary to know that they can be off by that much,” said Angela Spurgeon, whose dock and yard are swamped with ash. “I don’t think it was intentional, but it upsets me to know that a number was given of what the pond could hold, and the number now is more than double.”

Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, saying the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time.

Ms. Spurgeon said the scope of the disaster was difficult to fathom, even from photos.

“This is not a thin coating of ash,” she said. “These are boulders. There’s one in our cove that’s probably the size of our home.”

The spill has reignited a debate over whether coal ash should be federally regulated as a hazardous material.

Environmentalists have long argued that coal ash, which can contaminate groundwater and poison aquatic environments, should be stored in lined landfills. The ash ponds at Kingston were separated from the river only by earthen dikes. Coal plants around the country, most near rivers that supply the water they need to operate, store coal ash in unlined embankments and ponds, and in some areas coal ash is recycled as fill material.

The T.V.A. is still investigating the cause of the breach, but officials have suggested that unusually heavy rain and freezing temperatures may have been factors.

Sorry to post some bad news on Christmas but this is devistating! Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee!

Not sure why I haven’t received this info sooner but I just received it by email. I hope to have so photos of this soon, I’m going to make a trip to the disaster this week!

Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee; 48 Times the Size of Exxon Valdez

By Matthew McDermott, TreeHugger. Posted December 25, 2008.

An environmental disaster of epic proportions has occurred in Tennessee. Monday night, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

Toxic Sludge Got Into Tributary of Chattanooga Water Supply

Apart from the immediate physical damage, the issue is what toxic substances are in that sludge: Mercury, arsenic, lead, beryllium, cadmium. Though officials said the amounts of these poisons in the sludge could not be determined on Monday, they could (at the mild end) irritate skin or trigger allergies or (longer term) cause cancer or neurological problems.

This toxic sludge got into the Emory River, a tributary of the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers: The water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. TVA says that as yet the spill (which they are characterizing as a mudslide or landslide, but frankly it’s still toxic…) has not affected the water quality in the Emory River.

High Levels of Rain, Thaw Freeze Cycles May Have Weakened Pond Walls

On why the spill happened, the Tennessean speculated,

The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond. The last formal report on the condition of the 40-acre pond — an unlined, earthen structure — was issued in January and was unavailable Monday, officials said.

Greenpeace Calls for Criminal Investigation

In a press release issued yesterday, noting that spills of similar substances have resulted in felony charges, Greenpeace called for a criminal investigation into the spill:

“Every facility like this is supposed to have a spill contingency plan to prevent this kind of disaster,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director. “The authorities need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable.”

TVA Releases Official Statement

In an official statement, TVA president and CEO Tom Kilgore said,

Protecting the public, our employees, and the environment is TVA’s primary concern as we supply electric power for the people of Tennessee Valley region. We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide and damage to nearby homes.We are grateful no injuries have been reported, and we will take all appropriate actions to assist those affected by this situation.

We appreciate the continuing efforts of local and state agencies, as well as TVA employees, to respond to this situation quickly and efficiently. Our intense effort to respond effectively will continue 24/7 for the foreseeable future with the safety of the public our top priority.

Clean Coal, Yeah Right

As many people in the blog world are noting, it’s this sort of thing that really makes the proposition of clean coal so absurd. Even if you can scrub all the CO2 out of it, you still have so many other toxic waste products associated with burning coal that have to be stored that carbon emissions are just a part of the problem. How many other holding ponds are out there waiting to burst?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Hey all, sorry I’ve been away so long, Again! I have so many projects in the works and time to post new photos and environmental news has been impossible. I’m getting my head back above water but I’m still covered up until after the first of the year. I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  Now I ‘ve got to get back to helping my little girl, Serén, open the rest of her presents!