Green in brief: Wildlands Network flags WNC roads for wildlife crossings

TAKING PAWS: A black bear prepares to enter a culvert underneath Interstate 26 at the North Carolina/Tennessee border, one of the wildlife crossings flagged as a priority by The Wildlands Network. Photo courtesy of The Wildlands Network

The Wildlands Network, a Utah-based conservation nonprofit with staff in Asheville, has released a new report (avl.mx/c2n) identifying North Carolina’s most important road crossings for wildlife. Of the 20 sites in the report, six are in Western North Carolina — including the nonprofit’s No. 1 site, Interstate 40’s path through the Pigeon River Gorge.

“The highway cuts right through what would otherwise be a massive core forest habitat block featuring some of the highest biodiversity in North America, hindering wildlife movement and blocking a crucial northern migration route,” says the report about the 28-mile Pigeon River Gorge section. Black bears, deer, elk and other species are regularly killed by vehicle collisions on the road.

Other WNC roads mentioned in the report include U.S. 19 at the Blue Ridge Parkway near Maggie Valley, I-40 east of Canton and I-26 at the North Carolina/Tennessee border. At each site, the Wildlands Network recommends building new infrastructure, such as bridges and culverts, that would allow wildlife to cross more safely.

As previously reported by Xpress [see “Somewhere safe: New Children’s Book Highlights Wildlife Crossing Project,” March 24, 2021, avl.mx/c2m], dangerous wildlife crossings take a human toll as well. N.C. Department of Transportation data indicates that, from 2017-19, animal-vehicle collisions in the state’s 18 westernmost counties caused over $10.5 million in property damage and at least 189 human injuries.

“North Carolina needs to be strategic about investing in crossing projects that will have the greatest impact on wildlife and travelers’ safety,” said Ron Sutherland, Wildlands Network’s chief scientist, in a press release announcing the report. “The question of the moment is: Where do we need wildlife road crossings in North Carolina? This report is our answer to that question.”

Rabies vaccine airdrops occurring throughout WNC

The N.C Department of Health and Human Services has a message for people encountering mysterious, fishy-smelling objects in the WNC woods: Leave them alone.

While that’s probably good advice any time of year, it’s particularly applicable now. NCDHHS is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute oral rabies vaccines across the region. Packets containing the vaccine are coated in fishmeal or encased in matchbox-sized fishmeal blocks and dropped by plane or helicopter.

That fishmeal coating entices raccoons and other animals to bite down and swallow the medication. By vaccinating wildlife across WNC, officials hope to prevent raccoon rabies from spreading west of the Appalachians and reduce the local risk of infection.

An NCDHHS press release notes that anyone who comes into contact with the vaccine should wash the affected area with soap and water and call 866-487-3297. More information is available at avl.mx/c2k.

Opportunity knocks

  • The Nantahala Outdoor Center has established a new scholarship program for those with limited means to pursue careers in the whitewater rafting industry. The Founders Scholarship, established in partnership with the Wesser Foundation, will cover guide school tuition, room and board, essential river gear and first-aid training for qualified applicants. More information and application details are available at avl.mx/c2e.
  • Farmers seeking to diversify or expand their businesses are encouraged to apply to WNC Agricultural Options. The program, managed by Asheville-based nonprofit WNC Communities, provides grants of up to $8,000 for new agricultural initiatives. Those interested in applying must contact their local cooperative extension agent by Friday, Oct. 14; completed applications are due Friday, Nov. 18. More information is available at WNCAgOptions.org.
  • Asheville-based nonprofit EcoForesters hosts a free workshop at the A-B Tech Madison County campus 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, for landowners to learn about opportunities for forest stewardship. Tax incentives for forest management and the financial opportunities of carbon markets will be among the topics covered. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/c2f.
  • Local adventurers can win a free canvas tote bag — as well as social media cred — through Asheville Parks & Recreation’s “Fall for APR” selfie challenge, which runs through the end of November. Participants who take photos at eight Asheville city parks or community centers and tag them with #Fall4APR will be eligible for the prize. More information and registration is available at avl.mx/c2h.

Community kudos

  • Lowe's employees at Southside Community Farm
    MULCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING: Lowe’s employees helped install a food forest and community recreation area at Asheville’s Southside Community Farm on Sept. 14. Photo courtesy of Lowe’s

    Asheville’s Southside Community Farm was selected as one of 100 projects for Lowe’s Hometowns, the home improvement store’s nationwide philanthropy effort. On Sept. 14, local Lowe’s employees helped farm manager Chloe Moore install a food forest with seating to provide a community gathering space.

  • Asheville nonprofit MountainTrue announced its annual volunteer awards, to be presented at a 40th anniversary celebration Wednesday, Oct. 12. Board member Grady Nance received the Esther Cunningham Award, which recognizes “outstanding community service in conserving our natural resources.” Hayden Cheek, Jim Clark, Stacey Cassedy and Don Cooper were named volunteers of the year for the High Country, central, western and southern regions, respectively.
  • Several WNC drinking water treatment plants received Gold Star kudos from the N.C. Division of Water Resources. The municipalities of Burnsville, Waynesville and Weaverville, as well as the Maggie Valley Sanitary District, were all recognized for 10 consecutive years of meeting turbidity reduction goals “that are significantly more stringent than state and federal standards.”
  • UNC Asheville’s Owen Hall, which houses the school’s arts and media programs, received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The building recently underwent substantial renovation to use water more efficiently, reduce energy use and enhance indoor air quality.
  • Oak and Grist Dilling Co. in Black Mountain was certified as a carbon-neutral beverage producer by industry analyst ClimateHound. The company has committed to offset 172 megatons of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for not only its direct production emissions but also the emissions of its supply chain.

Save the date

  • Hendersonville’s Historic Johnson Farm holds a Farm Fun Day from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. The event features children’s games and crafts, a farm animal petting zoo, wagon rides and self-guided tours of the historic farmhouse. Tickets are $20 per family and can be purchased at the door; more information is available at avl.mx/bi9.
  • Sugar Hollow Solar celebrates the launch of its commercial solar business with a ribbon-cutting from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, at Dynamite Roasting Co. in Black Mountain. The event will feature food, giveaways and The Blood Connection’s mobile donation unit, as well as information on solar power for both individuals and businesses.
  • The U.S. Forest Service holds a virtual information session on future plans for Max Patch from 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18. The popular mountain bald in the Pisgah National Forest has been closed to camping and fires since July 2021 due to what federal officials called unsustainable levels of use. More information is available at avl.mx/c2j.
  • Representatives from Lights Out! Asheville, a community effort to protect birds by reducing light pollution, will share an update as part of The Collider’s free weekly coffee talk series, Thursday, Oct. 20, at 10 a.m. Topics will include the effects of nighttime lighting on migratory songbirds and the energy savings realized by Asheville city government after it adopted a “Lights Out” program in February.
  • The WNC Sierra Club hosts Rachel Muir, emeritus scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, for a free Zoom presentation on biodiversity at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3. “All Things Great and Small” will focus on the variety of Southern Appalachian wildlife and its importance to the world. Registration is available at avl.mx/prx3.
  • Asheville-based earth skills education nonprofit The Firefly Gathering holds its Frost Moon Gala fundraiser at the Asheville Masonic Temple 5-10:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7. The event features music by Leah Song of Rising Appalachia and other artists, as well as food from Cherokee chef Tyson Sampson. Tickets start at $50 and are available at avl.mx/c2g.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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