By Meredith Warfield
Black walnut trees are dying in Morgan and Rhea counties of eastern Tennessee. The culprit, according to a Tennessee Department of Agriculture announcement made this November, is Thousand Cankers Disease.
The disease is a recent phenomenon in the East, but has been wreaking havoc in the western United States for the past decade. Experts say the perpetrating fungus, Geosmithia, is transmitted to black walnuts by the walnut twig beetle. As the fungus spreads throughout the tree, the leaves turn yellow and the branches become stunted. The fungus has likely entered eastern states through transportation of untreated black walnut wood.
In an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading, Morgan and Rhea counties have been placed under a quarantine that prohibits residents from transporting walnut products and hardwood firewood outside of county lines. Surrounding counties are considered buffer zones to the afflicted area and have also been placed under firewood transport restrictions.
The Division of Forestry estimates that 1.38 million black walnut trees in urban areas could be affected if the disease is not contained. Although there are currently no effective treatments, scientists are studying the disease and officials encourage residents to report signs of the fungus outside of the infected area.
By Kimber Ray
Legislation to support National Heritage Areas in West Virginia and western Maryland was introduced to Congress on Nov. 4 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. The bill would renew funding for the Coal and Wheeling National Heritage Areas — both in West Virginia — and enact a NHA designation for the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, which crosses into two Maryland counties.
Congress designates these areas in order to preserve unique resources and landscapes through a public-private partnership. Although National Heritage Areas are not federal lands, the National Park Service provides an amount of technical, planning and financial support.
In a press release, Rockefeller emphasized the importance of the proposal. “Tourism is such an important part of West Virginia’s economy, creating jobs and enriching people’s lives,” Rockefeller said. “These historic, cultural and natural treasures need to be preserved for … future generations of West Virginians.”
The bill is currently under review by the Senate Energy and Natural Resource committee.
Long-term plans are underway to establish new cycling routes in the seven mountain counties of northwestern North Carolina. The High Country Council of Governments — a regional development agency — initially proposed the High Country Regional Bike Plan in July 2011. Public comments on the plan were taken in October, with final approval pending a vote from each county.
The plan calls for bicycle lanes to be added whenever highway improvements such as widening or resurfacing are scheduled, and also seeks to improve education on bicycle safety and traffic laws.
Under continued pressure from the oil and gas industry, the U.S. Forest Service announced in October that they may reconsider their 2011 recommendation against horizontal drilling — also known as fracking — in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia and West Virginia.
Government and local officials have united with concerned citizens to urge the Forest Service to prohibit fracking in the forest, which is the source of drinking water for more than nine million people. A final decision by the Forest Service is not expected until next year.