SHR Leads Red Spruce Restoration

August 17, 2022

Big plans are sprouting at Southern Highlands Reserve. We are proud to announce that SHR has been tapped by the federal government to take the lead in red spruce restoration for the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. In order to reach goals set with partners including The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife, we will raise 50,000 new trees to be planted on public lands — quite an increase from our original goal of 10,000. In recognition of our organization’s crucial role in restoration, SHR Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks has been invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree, which this year is a red spruce from North Carolina.

The story of our relationship with red spruce began two decades ago, when we first grew them to plant in our own garden. Then a chance meeting with a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission developed into a partnership when she asked us to grow trees for her conservation work with the Carolina northern flying squirrel. From there, our efforts grew into a grassroots campaign to save an ecosystem vital to many endangered plant and animal species, as well as to the beauty and bounty that draws visitors to our region.

These high-elevation spruce-fir forests are relics of the glacial period. They were left stranded, like islands in the sky, as the earth warmed and glaciers retreated. Logging and subsequent wildfires have decimated them during the last century, and they continue to struggle due to rising temperatures and drought. They are home to several endangered and threatened species of birds, insects and animals, including the Carolina northern flying squirrel.

SHR has an unprecedented 90 percent success rate in planting red spruce trees. To date, we’ve grown more than 10,000 mature red spruce saplings from seed and planted more than 5,000 red spruce trees on public land with partners and volunteers.

Red spruce saplings are more sensitive to environmental stress than mature trees. One key to our success in raising them is the Reserve’s elevation, topography, and climate, which mimics the conditions of high-elevation forests and reduces transplant shock. We also specialize in helping them develop a robust root zone so they can survive in the wild without consistent and reliable watering.

We’re not the first and we’re not the last to rebuild forests. We started doing this many years ago because we wanted to, and it’s the right thing to do for the benefit of every species. We invite you to join us in our efforts by donating, sponsoring a tree in honor of a cause or loved one or volunteering with us. Our hope is that our children and grandchildren will be able to walk in high-elevation spruce forests.