Friends of Pocosin Lakes to plant 3,000 seedlings

Published 6:35 pm Sunday, January 24, 2010

Staff Writer

Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is asking for volunteers to help plant 3,000 seedlings.
The seedlings will be planted in a refuge area burned by the 2008 Evans Road wildfire.
Weather permitting, volunteers will convene at 9 a.m. Thursday at the refuge’s Pungo Unit maintenance compound off N.C. Highway 45, reads a Friends news release.
The seedlings, all Atlantic white cedars, will be planted on about 10 acres in the burned area, members said.
“This is the perfect project for anyone who has the desire to help in refuge restoration; as well as get a firsthand understanding of what the Friends group is all about,” Doris Morris, vice president, said in an e-mail to the Washington Daily News.
The sooty terrain in which the trees will be planted is difficult to traverse, said Emily Scott, president.
In an interview, Scott advised all comers to dress appropriately and bring shovels, if they have them.
The cedar seedlings were donated by North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticultural Science, she said.
Eric Hinesley, a horticulture professor at N.C. State, grew the seedlings in cooperation with his students, Scott said.
Hinesley, a “world leader in the (study of) Atlantic white cedar trees,” worked in tandem with refuge biologist Wendy Stanton to identify a proper location for the seedlings, Scott related.
Now considered rare in this vicinity, Atlantic white cedars were once common throughout the region, said Scott, who added that high demand for cedar wood decimated the population.
The Evans Road wildfire dealt another blow to the struggling trees, she noted.
“The fire did do a lot of damage to the seedlings that were naturally growing, coming back in that area,” Scott commented.
Speaking of the location destined to be replanted, she stated, “It basically wiped out the seedlings that were out there.”
The refuge’s Atlantic white cedar stands are part of a community that’s interspersed with a more typical habitat for the area, said Howard Phillips, refuge manager.
“Increasing or improving the diversity of habitat types we have out there helps continue the tremendous diversity of wildlife species that we have in these pocosin systems,” Phillips told the Daily News.
According to the refuge’s Web site, “Pocosin is an Indian word meaning ‘swamp on a hill.’”
Phillips said the Friends volunteers will come in handy partly because his staff is limited. He added that replanting the cedar stands is “pretty high-priority work.”
The Evans Road fire was sparked by lightning on June 1, 2008. The fire spread from private property to the refuge, burning more than 40,000 acres, the refuge’s Web site reads.
At one point, media reports showed smoke from the fire was blown inland from its source, blanketing large swaths of the east — Beaufort County included — in a thick, white pall.
The acrid scent of smoke lingered in Washington for days until the wind shifted just before the annual Summer Festival.
The smoky ordeal reportedly persisted for locations closer to the fire, as conditions turned dangerous for people with respiratory ailments and visibility was lowered dramatically on nearby roads and highways.
Though it was mostly contained earlier, the fire wasn’t officially declared “out” until Jan. 9, 2009, the refuge’s Web site says.
The area where the seedlings will be planted is along Evans and Harvest roads, said Frances Armstrong, treasurer of Friends.
The fire that wiped out so many of the naturally growing cedar seedlings was, for a time, the largest in-progress wildfire in the United States, Armstrong pointed out.
“This is something that we really think we can do to help the refuge,” she said of the replanting.