Joint DNR, For­est Ser­vice burns ben­e­fit rare species

Plants, an­i­mals reestab­lished in wooded ar­eas across Ge­or­gia

The Covington News - - Agriculture & Outdoors -

SO­CIAL CIR­CLE — Re­cent pre­scribed fire col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and the U. S. For­est Ser­vice will help re­store rare species such as the smooth pur­ple cone­flower and Bach­man’s spar­row in Ge­or­gia.

Ap­prox­i­mately 4,000 acres were burned dur­ing a three­day pe­riod in mid- March in habi­tats rang­ing from the up­per Pied­mont to the Blue Ridge ecore­gions.

The burns were de­signed to im­prove habi­tat for sev­eral rare species; re­store oak, shortleaf pine and pitch pine wood­lands; and re­duce fu­els that could feed wild­fires.

“ Th­ese burns rep­re­sent an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of qual­ity eco­log­i­cal work and in­ter­a­gency co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the DNR’s Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion and the U. S. For­est Ser­vice,” said Mincy Mof­fett, a DNR wildlife bi­ol­o­gist and botanist who helped with the burns.

Species such as the fed­er­ally en­dan­gered smooth pur­ple cone­flower ( Echi­nacea lae­vi­gata) his­tor­i­cally re­lied on wild­fire, windthrow or trees up­rooted by wind, ice storms, and large her­bi­vores to main­tain the con­di­tions re­quired for sur­vival.

Be­cause of the plant’s need for full sun­light to bloom and make fruits, fires are nec­es­sary to pre­vent en­croach­ment of habi­tat by shade- pro­duc­ing woody shrubs and trees.

In the past, smooth pur­ple cone­flow­ers were found in nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring for­est open­ings and thinly canopied wood­lands, ar­eas that have been largely de­stroyed through agri­cul­tural clear­ing, res­i­den­tial and in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment and fire sup­pres­sion.

Smooth pur­ple cone­flower pop­u­la­tions ex­ist on only 25 sites in two coun­ties in North­east­ern Ge­or­gia — Haber­sham and Stephens. Be­cause of the cone­flower’s need for sun, most rem­nant pop­u­la­tions are found on the edges of roads where the canopy has been opened ar­ti­fi­cially.

Ap­prox­i­mately 115 acres near Toc­coa in Stephens County were in­cluded in the re­cent burns as part of an on­go­ing Cone­flower Restora­tion Project.

Pre­scribed fire was es­pe­cially im­por­tant at this site be­cause a tor­nado swept through in 2003. The re­sult­ing de­bris and thick re- sprout­ing shrubs were start­ing to shade out cone­flow­ers.

Ap­prox­i­mately 80 per­cent of the re­main­ing cone­flower sites oc­cur on For­est Ser­vice land.

The For­est Ser­vice and the DNR are work­ing to­gether to aid in the species’ re­cov­ery as re­quired by the En­dan­gered Species Act.

DNR and For­est Ser­vice of­fi­cials con­sider the burns a suc­cess.

“ The burns went very well,” said Tom An­der­son, for­est fire man­age­ment of­fi­cer for the Chat­ta­hoochee- Oconee Na­tional For­est and a 38year For­est Ser­vice vet­eran. “ Re­sources from the DNR are a def­i­nite as­set. With­out their as­sis­tance th­ese burns would have been hard to suc­cess­fully com­plete.

“ We will def­i­nitely be work­ing to­gether more in the fu­ture.”

The For­est Ser­vice has a his­tory of col­lab­o­rat­ing with the DNR’s Game Man­age­ment Sec­tion for pre­scribed burns on wildlife man­age­ment ar­eas within the na­tional for­est. But the March burns rep­re­sent the first time the For­est Ser­vice has worked with the Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion, an­other part of the DNR’s Wildlife Re­sources Di­vi­sion.

Hav­ing a com­mon goal of species re­cov­ery is a key as­pect of the part­ner­ship. The For­est Ser­vice burns ap­prox­i­mately 16,000 acres ev­ery year in Oconee Na­tional For­est in a plan de­signed to aid the re­cov­ery of the red- cock­aded wood­pecker, an­other fed­er­ally listed en­dan­gered species.

“ We’re all in this to­gether,” An­der­son said.

An­other part­ner and sup­porter in pre­scribed fire is the Ge­or­gia Forestry Com­mis­sion, the agency in Ge­or­gia re­spon­si­ble for out­door fire ac­tiv­ity. The com­mis­sion works closely with the For­est Ser­vice and the DNR to con­duct burns.

“ It’s one of the best and most eco­nom­i­cal ways to man­age our for­est lands and ecosys­tems and min­i­mize the risk of dam­ag­ing wild­fire,” said Neal Ed­mond­son, pre­scribed fire pro­gram man­ager for the Ge­or­gia Forestry

Winged won­der: Com­mis­sion. “ It is a safe way to ap­ply a nat­u­ral process that in turn will ben­e­fit our com­mon goal of habi­tat restora­tion and species re­cov­ery.”

Buy­ing a wildlife li­cense plate or mak­ing a do­na­tion via the “ Give Wildlife a Chance” State In­come Tax Check­off sup­ports the work done by sea­sonal burn crews in Ge­or­gia, in­clud­ing projects like cone­flower restora­tion.

The tax check­off and sales of bald ea­gle and hum­ming­bird tags pro­vide vi­tal fund­ing for the Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion. Projects vary from mon­i­tor­ing sea tur­tles to pro­mot­ing aware­ness of pre­scribed fires as a tool for pro­mot­ing healthy forests.

Wildlife li­cense plates are avail­able for $ 25 at all county tag of­fices. Tags also can be bought by check­ing the wildlife li­cense plate box on mail- in reg­is­tra­tion forms. Visit http:// mvd. dor. ga. gov/ tags for on­line re­newals.

The check­off is an­other easy way to sup­port nongame con­ser­va­tion. Sim­ply fill in a dol­lar amount on line 26 of the long tax form ( Form 500) or line 10 of the short form ( Form 500EZ).

The color pur­ple:

North Carolina Wildlife Re­sources Com­mis­sion

A bi­ol­o­gist gen­tly holds a Bach­man’s spar­row, which pre­scribed burns are help­ing to re­store in Ge­or­gia.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice

The smooth pur­ple cone­flower is one of the plant species re­turn­ing to Ge­or­gia in greater num­bers due to Ge­or­gia DNR and For­est Ser­vice pre­scribed burns.

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