Fiscal Year 2015 Accomplishments

Its hard to believe its almost 2016! For those of us in the federal government, it is already fiscal year 2016 – the new fiscal year (FY) began on October 1st. This time of year is when we work on reporting all the great work we have done over the past FY and plan for the new FY. FY2015 was a great year for the Grandfather Restoration Project! We were able to exceed our targets in almost every area. The accomplishments below are in addition to the great work our partners and volunteers completed across the district.

Habitat Restoration: 1 acre of lake habitat restored, 5,780 acres of terrestrial habitat enhanced

Boone Fork pond restorationLake habitat was restored at Boone Fork Pond, controlling erosion and adding fish habitat structures.

Terrestrial habitat was restored through a variety of management, including maintenance of wildlife openings, mechanical restoration of the Lost Cove orchard, prescribed fire, timber stand improvement, and shortleaf pine restoration harvest activities.

Invasive Species Treatments: 306 acres of nonnative invasive plant treatments, 45 acres of hemlock wooly adelgid treatments

IMG_5450Invasive species were treated with herbicide in the Catawba River Floodplain, along Wilson Creek, along Back Irish Creek Rd, and outside the Wilderness around Table Rock. Paulownia was hand pulled inside the Wilderness in partnership with WildSouth.

Hemlock wooly adelgid treatments were continued for Carolina and eastern hemlock across the district. 22 acres were treated for the first time along the Catawba Falls trail.

 

Watershed Restoration: 1 aquatic organism passage installed, 10.5 miles of non-system roads decommissioned

20150413_164819 (3)A large aquatic organism passage was installed along Simpson Creek, allowing for safe fish passage and maintenance of the natural stream channel.

Law enforcement identified 10.5 miles of non-system roads and multiple trails that were decommissioned by placing boulders at entry points, reducing erosion into sensitive watersheds.

Trail Restoration: 1.3 miles of trails improved, 60 miles of trails maintained

IMG_3443The China Creek trail near Blowing Rock was relocated to follow a historical route.

Through USFS labor and contracts 60 miles of trails were maintained. This work included 15+ miles of work completed by SAWS in Linville Gorge. This is in addition to the great work the volunteer trail community is doing across the Grandfather Ranger District.

Prescribed Fire: 7,497 acres of fuels treated

IMG_1489Prescribed burns were conducted at the Lake James unit, the Woodruff Ridge unit, the Wilson Creek unit, and the Rockhouse unit.

Site preparation burns were conducted as part of the Roses Creek timber sale.

The Blue Gravel Fire, the Bald Knob Fire, and the Wolf Creek Fire were managed through a “confine and contain” strategy.

Timber and Silviculture: 151 acres of forest vegetation established, 737 acres of forest vegetation improved, 1,205 CCF of timber harvested

Newly-planted 2yr shortleaf pine seedling at Miller Mountain

Through the Roses Creek project, over 150 acres of shortleaf pine forest was established following the harvest of the remaining stands of timber.

Timber harvest and vegetation improvement focused on removing white pine, tulip poplar and red maple and retaining oaks and yellow pines.

 

Monitoring: 2 new monitoring contracts

The Grandfather Ranger District entered into 2 multi-year contracts: one with Western Carolina University to monitor prescribed fire effects on vegetation, and one with MountainTrue to monitor invasive species occurrence and treatment

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Shortleaf Restoration: Seedlings Planted at Rose’s Creek Project Sites

The shortleaf pine seedlings are in the ground at the Rose’s Creek Project sites! This is the culmination of years of efforts — from planning, to harvest, to site prep burns — the Rose’s Creek shortleaf pine restoration work is a great example of partners and Forest Service personnel from many resource areas working together to make a change on the landscape.

Newly-planted 2yr shortleaf pine seedling at Miller Mountain

Newly-planted 2yr shortleaf pine seedling at Miller Mountain

Bare root seedlings were planted at a 14ft by 14ft spacing at the Rose’s Creek units, and containerized seedlings were planted at a 20ft by 20ft spacing at the Miller Mountain units. The wider spacing at Miller Mountain is to encourage a higher component of oaks and mixed hardwoods in the stands. The planting crew finished both sites in a week, planting an amazing 40 acres a day!

Although the seedlings are in the ground, the work is not finished. Our silviculturalists installed monitoring plots (1 per acre) to check planting density. These plots will also be used for 1-year survival checks. At that point, we will determine if a herbicide release is needed, targeting non-native invasive species and any competing hardwood sprouts.

In addition to the silviculture plots, Tara Keyser, Research Forester with the Southern Research Station, will set up long-term regeneration plots to study competition at the shortleaf restoration sites. Tara will collect information about the planted seedlings, competing tree seedlings, white pine regeneration in relation to seed sources, herbaceous cover, and site-prep burn severity. We are excited to partner with the Southern Research Station to help inform next steps for the Rose’s Creek Project sites as well as future shortleaf pine restoration efforts.

 

Fire and Invasives: The Paulownia Problem

It is well understood that wildfires can promote invasive species — where wildfires burn with high intensities, fire removes the duff and litter layer, allowing invasive species that thrive on bare soil to germinate. One of the biggest invasive culprits in this area is Paulownia tomentosa (princess tree). One Paulownia tree is capable of producing twenty million seeds per year, which are easily carried by wind and water. Once the seeds establish in bare soil, the seedlings can grow to a height of 10-ft in a single season.

With the Table Rock Wildfire that burned in the Linville Gorge last fall, monitoring and treating invasive species (including Paulownia) was identified as the top priority in the Forest Service’s response post-fire. As part of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) for the Table Rock Fire resource values impacted by the fire were identified, and emergency funds were requested to treat invasive plant species. BAER is an emergency risk management tool that allows the Forest Service to respond to post-wildfire conditions that would destabilize or degrade the burned lands. Using BAER authority, the Forest Services and its partners have been monitoring Paulownia, treating infestations outside the wilderness boundary, and hand-pulling along trails within the wilderness.

Paulownia seedlings carpet the forest in areas where the Table Rock fire burned with high intensity near Chimney Gap

Paulownia seedlings carpet the forest in areas where the Table Rock fire burned with high intensity near Chimney Gap (photo by Kayah Gaydish)

Starting in August, our partners tasked with monitoring and treating Paulownia noted that there was an explosion of seedlings both inside and outside the wilderness boundary. Ben Prater and Kayah Gaydish of WildSouth, who have been leading the treatment efforts in partnership with the Forest Service, invited me out last week to see this firsthand (and put me to work to help treat the seedlings). I was amazed by the sheer number of seedlings coming up — in areas the forest is carpeted with young Paulownia. In inspecting the infestation, we could see that Paulownia occurs in large numbers only where the fire burned with high intensities. The Forest Service has mapped these areas, and luckily they only cover 8-acres (about 1/2 of a percent of the total fire area). In these areas, total canopy loss and the removal of all duff and litter provides the perfect environment for Paulownia — and thus these areas are the priority areas for treatment.

Ben Prater, Director of Conservation at Wild South, treats Paulownia seedlings with herbicide outside the wilderness near Chimney Gap

Ben Prater, Director of Conservation at Wild South, treats Paulownia seedlings with herbicide outside the wilderness near Chimney Gap

While there are some areas that burned with high-intensity outside the wilderness, much of this area lies within the wilderness boundary. Although we can treat those Paulownia seedlings that are outside the wilderness with herbicide, there is no authority to use herbicide within the wilderness. In fact, there is not even authority to hand-pull Paulownia. Without any methods to remove Paulownia from the wilderness, this invasive species would threaten native plant communities and degrade wilderness character.

In response to the infestation, the Forest Service is pursuing additional funding through BAER and authority to hand-pull Paulownia within the wilderness boundary through an Minimum Requirements Decision Guide (MRDG) and use of a Categorical Exclusion under NEPA. The MRDG, which was signed today, is a tool to assist wilderness managers in making appropriate decisions in wilderness. National Forest staff are currently gathering information to prepare a Categorical Exclusion to consider a timely and effective route to control the spread of the infestation. Once the Categorical Exclusion is signed, we will be organizing a broad-scale volunteer effort to get those Paulownia seedlings out before the leaves fall off and the sprouts become hard to identify.

So, as partners I ask you to stay tuned, because we could use all the help we can get in this time-sensitive effort! This will be a great opportunity to work together to help save the Linville Gorge, which holds a special place in all our hearts, from this aggressive invasive species.

Wildlife Monitoring: Turkey, Bobcats, and Bears – Oh My!

A key part of the design of the Grandfather Restoration Project includes adaptive management. Adaptive management describes an approach for improving resource management by learning from management outcomes. In order to learn from our outcomes, the Grandfather Restoration Project has undertaken a robust monitoring plan, including monitoring wildlife, vegetation, and watershed health. Monitoring provides reliable feedback on the effects of management actions, allowing managers to refine decisions and project design. Since fire is a key management tool for the project, many of our monitoring studies revolve around the impacts of fire on the ecosystem. One exciting study we are currently working on involves using wildlife cameras to determine whether wildlife are using our prescribed burn areas more than unburned areas. The pictures below are taken from wildlife cameras within the prescribed burn area.

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Turkey

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Black bears

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Bobcat

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Coyote

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Deer

The wildlife monitoring study is a collaborative effort, leaning on wildlife expertise from Pisgah National Forest and the Grandfather Ranger District, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and The Nature Conservancy.  While we hypothesize that wildlife are using the areas within our burn units more than the adjacent unburned areas, we will not be able to draw any conclusions until the study is complete this fall. Stay tuned for an update in September!

Learning About fire in the Southern Blue Ridge

Restoring historic fire regimes is a landscape scale issue. With a century of fire supression, an estimated 80% of U.S. forests and rangelands have altered fire dynamics. Beyond just restoring fire-adapted ecosystems on the Grandfather Ranger District, the Grandfather Restoration Project and its partners are part of a larger landscape group working on restoring historic fire regimes to the Southern Blue ridge Mountains: The Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network (FLN). Organized by The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Blue Ridge FLN is a network of federal, state, and and non-profit agencies who are sharing their knowledge and experience in reintroducting fire into the Southern Blue Ridge landscape through prescribed burning. The group shares research, monitoring results, and management stratigies at an annual workshop, held this year in Cashiers, NC.

Mark Hall, South Carolina Parks and Recreation, talks about his experiences with prescribed burning in Jocassee Gorges State Park

Along with sharing sucess stories and challenges, presentations at the workshop focused on buidling capacity for prescribed burning programs, the effects of prescribed burns on wildlife — everything from salamanders to birds to small mammals, and creating fire-wise communities. More information can be found on the Southern Blue Ridge FLN workshop website.