Partnership in Action: Protecting Eastern Hemlocks

canopy of Eastern Hemlock trees

Eastern Hemlock tree


Eastern Hemlock ~ Ellis Laudermilk

Over the last two years, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust (KNLT) has partnered with the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) to treat Eastern hemlocks against an invasive pest that threatens the survival of this keystone species. The hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is a tiny insect that feeds along the bases of hemlock needles, weakening and often killing the tree. The invasive insect has pervaded much of the forests of the eastern United States, causing massive disruptions of entire ecosystems. 

Eastern hemlocks are a keystone species in the forests of Eastern Kentucky and across Central Appalachia. Their health is vital to the important natural communities found here, which support hundreds of rare plant and animal species. In fact, Central Appalachia is home to the most biodiverse temperate zone forests in North America. The area is considered highly climate resilient and vital to maintaining all life on the planet.  

Additionally, hemlocks promote healthy streams and water quality, providing an valuable service to local communities by safeguarding the headwater streams that provide drinking water. Because of their importance to local communities and much larger natural systems, it is imperative to address threats to Eastern hemlocks. HWA treatment has been a component of KNLT’s stewardship program since the threat was first detected in Kentucky. In 2008, KNLT launched an initiative called “Save Kentucky’s Hemlocks” the first HWA treatment effort in Kentucky, which was later incorporated into the Kentucky Division of Forestry.   

With the most recent increased effort to combat the pest, KNLT provided staff resources, HWA treatment equipment and technical assistance. This intensified treatment effort was funded by a National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund grant as well as funds from a private foundation.  

Since the launch of this partnership in January 2023, KNLT has assisted OKNP with re-treatment and first-time treatment of nearly 15,000 Eastern hemlocks across 125+ acres of wildlands in Eastern Kentucky. Trees within several notable State Nature Preserves, including Blanton Forest, Bad Branch and Archer Benge, and six KNLT preserves were protected. Protecting hemlocks also protects stream health, rendering this project even more valuable. More than five miles of streams benefitted from this partnership.  

“We at the Office of the Kentucky Nature Preserves sincerely appreciate the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust for their assistance and leadership during our 2023-24 hemlock treatment project. This partnership has led to a significant increase in both trees and acres receiving treatments. A special thanks to the KNLT field staff, Derrick Lindsay and Brittany Murphy who contributed greatly to these projects.” ~ Kyle Napier, OKNP – Pine Mountain Manager 

KNLT is proud to team up with OKNP on this project and is grateful to the funders, researchers, and especially the boots-on-the-ground teams who made the Eastern Hemlock Partnership a success. This collaboration illustrates the power of partnership in protecting the biodiversity of Central Appalachia. 


About Kentucky Natural Lands Trust

KNLT is a nationally accredited nonprofit working to protect biodiverse and climate resilient landscapes in ways that benefit communities. Through partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits, companies and private individuals, KNLT has protected more than 57,000 acres of wildlands throughout the Commonwealth.

For more information on how you can help KNLT protect wildlands, visit Projects like these would not be possible without the support of our donors!  Join our movement and give today: DONATE NOW

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Cover photo: Eastern hemlocks – Bad Branch Preserve ~ Ellis Laudermilk

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