Saving the Next Tree: The Georgia Hemlock Project, Community Action, and Environmental Literacy

Elizabeth Giddens

Abstract


This article describes a community effort in the north Georgia mountains to stem the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) infestation, which is killing eastern hemlocks throughout their range. The project has raised awareness of the problem, funds to finance research and the cultivation of predator beetles, and citizen science involvement. Participating institutions and groups quickly focused on a shared purpose and have managed the project in a manner that accommodates separate benefits to each entity. In addition, the individuals leading the project have employed a personable, respectful, and flexible contact style, which has attracted participants and appealed to volunteers. Perhaps most important, the project has enabled participants to play active roles in fighting the infestation, rather than merely requesting monetary support or long-term changes to personal behavior; research shows these latter strategies are unlikely to result in authentic understanding of environmental issues or long-term behavioral change. Paradoxically, the field work itself has enabled participants to make connections between ecological crises—such as the HWA infestation—and choices that individuals can control—such as whether or not to use non-native plants in their suburban yards. This account demonstrates strategies that can be successful in many community action initiatives and that should have particular appeal for environmental activists.

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