Meet the Managers

There are seven main programs in Resource Management and Science: Air Quality, Cultural Resources and Archaeology, Fire, Fisheries, Inventory and Monitoring, Vegetation, and Wildlife.
Plowing rows for native grass seed planting, Cades Cove
Plowing rows for native grass seed planting, Cades Cove

NPS Photo

What is vegetation management?

With the help of scientists in the Park's Vital Signs Monitoring program, vegetation managers monitor forests, grassy balds, meadows, and wetlands over time. They work to eliminate or control invasive species, restore landscapes altered by agriculture, and re-vegetate disturbed areas with native plant species.

Who manages the park's vegetation?

Vegetation managers include foresters and biologists.

What projects are Vegetation Managers working on now?

Exotic invasive species' management is important to protect the Park's landscape and to comply with the Executive Order on Invasive Species.

Exotic Invasive Plant Species Control

What are exotic, invasive plant species?

An exotic, invasive species is not native to an area and displaces native species. Take kudzu as an example: a highly vigorous and adaptive species from Japan, kudzu, brought in to stabilize slopes, now pours down hillsides choking out native plants by blocking light and using up soil nutrients and water. Over time, exotic invasive species like kudzu change plant communities and sometime entire ecosystems.

How big is the problem? Where do exotic plants come from?

In the Great Smoky Mountains, scientists have counted 350 exotic plant species. They come from a few sources:
  • Pre-Park homesite landscaping
  • Gravel and topsoil brought into the Park
  • Visitors' shoes, tires, and floormats
  • Animal and wind deposition, especially following fires in the Park
Of the 350 species, the park actively controls 50 - those that are exotic AND invasive. Some of these include: kudzu, multiflora rose, coltsfoot, and garlic mustard. Plants that take over native species' habitat and thereby alter the food chain, fire regimes, and biodiversity are top priorities.

How are they controlled?

The park's exotic plant treatment program has deep roots. Beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, the park was already treating kudzu and multiflora rose. In the 1980s vegetation managers mapped and documented several exotic, invasive species and since the 1990s the park has had a successful program combining chemical and manual control as well as prevention of new plant introductions. When possible, vegetation managers pull or cut invasive exotic plants. When this isn't practical, they spray selective herbicides or cut trees and paint stumps with herbicide.

Does management work?

With persistence, yes. Because Great Smoky Mountains National Park began its invasive species control program early, it has fewer rampant exotic populations than other parks of a similar size. The program involves systemic treatment, beginning with thorough surveys, accurate documentation and mapping, best management practices for control, and consistent monitoring and re-treatment. Volunteers often work in conjunction with managers to efforts can continue throughout the Park.


Pest & Disease Monitoring and Management

Biologists and foresters at the Park use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control exotic and invasive pests. There are three types of IPM: mechanical (such as hand-pulling weeds), cultural (changing behavior to prevent or reduce pests), and chemical (using approved pesticides or herbicides). Staff manage pests in forests, fields, and even Park buildings in an effort to protect native species and people.

Examples of five forest insect pests and diseases that managers actively monitor include:
  • Balsam Woolly Adelgid (BWA) - An aphid-like insect, BWA killed 90 percent of mature trees in the park since 1962 when it was first discovered in the park. The Fraser fir, a federally listed species of concern and a southern Appalachian endemic (found only in these mountains and primarily within the boundaries of the Park), has been hit hard. While there is no completely effective treatment, managers have had some success spraying fir trunks with insecticidal soap. Those stands that survived have begun to reproduce in many areas.
  • Beech Disease - Beech stands have been devastated in many areas of the Park by a combination of non-native beech scale and a species of Nectria fungus first identified in the late 1980s. Look for loss in high elevation beech gaps along the Appalachian Trail.
  • Butternut Canker - The butternut canker causes lens shaped bard wounds and lesions on butternut tree nuts and branches. The disease first appeared in Wisconsin in 1967, although no one know where it originated. Scientists began monitoring 75 butternut trees in 1987.
  • Dogwood Anthracnose - Many flowering dogwoods in the Park - and in the United States - are afflicted with this fungus. Its origins are unknown, and there are no effective treatments. Vegetation managers actively monitor surviving dogwood.
  • Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) - Since 1992, hemlock woolly adelgid or HWA has infested eastern hemlocks throughout the Park. HWA is an aphid-like insect that feeds at the base of hemlock needles killing trees directly or weakening them, rendering them vulnerable to secondary pests such as hemlock borer that may eventually kill the trees. Foresters treat the trees with systemic chemical control (pouring insecticide around the tree base), foliar spray of insecticidal soap or oil, and/or biological control (using predatory beetles). Most untreated hemlocks are dying.
Pests and disease come to the park in many different ways. Once in the United States, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid spread by itself from forest to forest over many years, while the Emerald Ash Borer, another insect pest, arrives on firewood that campers bring into the park from infested areas. Read more about the Firewood Quarantine to learn how you can help stop the spread of this invasive and destructive insect.
NPS - Maintained habitat on Gregory Bald

Restoration of Native Vegetation & Landscapes

Throughout the Park, we see landscapes in flux: once-logged forests are maturing, streams that were straightened are meandering, and homesites once cleared for gardens and yards are growing over with brambles and flowers. The story of Great Smoky Mountains' forests and fields intertwines with the story of human settlement here. Once the human disturnbance is gone, native vegetation often returns unaided. Sometimes, though, park employees need to actively manage landscapes that have been altered by past (and current) human activity in order to restore native species and the habitat they provide.

To restore landscapes, vegetation managers look to the human story of disturbance and to similar landscapes that can tell them which native species existed before logging, farming, clearing, or draining. Seeds are collected from native plants - often a tricky, time consuming business - from nearby places in the park and are mixed to reflect the diversity within each habitat.

Restoring native species is important for several reasons:
  • Native Wildlife Preservation - The Park's animals have evolved to fit into certain ecological niches, which includes eating specific species of plants (or the animals that ate those plants) and using plants for shelter.
  • Restore plants to native nutrient cycling, often re-instituting links in a chain connecting soil, fungus, microbes, and other plants in ways not fully understood.
  • Provide visitors with a view of undeveloped Appalachian landscapes.
Some landscapes currently being restored or re-vegetated:
  • Cades Cove - meadows and wetlands
  • Foothills Parkway
  • Gregory and Andrews Balds
  • Areas in the Park disturbed for unitlity, bridge, or road construction

Return to Non-native species main page

Last updated: March 24, 2017

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