What Does Restoration Look Like? Shortleaf Pine at Roses Creek

Shortleaf Restoration from Lisa Jennings on Vimeo — part of a series of videos on restoration celebrating the mid-point of the Grandfather Restoration Project.

Forest restoration is something that is talked about a lot these days. But what does restoration really look like on the ground? 2016 marks the halfway point in the project. In the past 4 years, Forest Service managers have been working with a group of partners to improve forest health on over 27,000 acres. One of the key projects the Forest Service has led is the shortleaf pine restoration work at Roses Creek, near Morganton, NC.

Shortleaf pines are a southern yellow pine that grow at lower elevations on the rolling slopes where the foothills meet the Appalachian Mountains. Shortleaf pine forests contain not only shortleaf pines, but a mix of oak species that benefit wildlife as well as other southern yellow pines. The stands are typically open – more like a woodland than a dense forest – and contain a rich understory of grasses and forbs. Historically, shortleaf pine forests were common on the dry, south facing slopes of the Grandfather Ranger District. Today, they are scattered across only a small percentage of the district.

Past records show that this forest type supported a wide variety of plant and animal species. Shortleaf pine forests in the Southern Blue Ridge once supported rare species like red cockaded woodpecker as well game species like bobwhite quail. But, the forests were hit hard on several fronts. First, much of the forest was lost with land clearing – which was common on these rolling slopes in the early 1900s. Next came fire suppression – without frequent fire the fire-loving oaks and pines were overtaken by yellow poplars and maples. The final hit was the southern pine beetle outbreaks in the 1990s which swept through the area, killing many of the remaining shortleaf pines.

Partners discuss shortleaf pine restoration near Roses Creek (photo by Adam Warwick, TNC)

Partners discuss shortleaf pine restoration near Roses Creek (photo by Adam Warwick, TNC)

The Roses Creek shortleaf pine restoration site provides an opportunity for these pine forests to come back to life. Last year, the Forest Service brought in local loggers to do a restoration harvest. Select yellow pine and oak trees were left in the overstory to provide structure and a seed source. After the harvest, the Grandfather Ranger District fire staff conducted a prescribed fire to prepare the seed bed. Southern pine seeds germinate best where there is little leaf litter, and burning will knock back some of the competing trees and shrubs. The final step is planting shortleaf pine seedlings in between the remaining trees to add to the seed source from the few existing shortleaf pines.

The Roses Creek site is just one example of shortleaf pine restoration under the Grandfather Restoration Project. Managers are working to restore the system so that rare plants and animals will return to the area, and future generations will be able to enjoy the unique and beautiful shortleaf pine forests. 

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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

Rose’s Creek Project Update

In addition to prescribed fire, timber management is a key tool for restoration of ecosystems on the Grandfather Ranger District. The Rose’s Creek Project is the first vegetation management project that was planned and is being implemented under the Grandfather Restoration Project. With involvement from collaborators beginning in the early stages of scoping, the project is geared toward restoration of historical conditions, including removal of white pine and planting of shortleaf pines.

This week I was able to join the district’s Timber Sale Administrator to look at the active harvest operation taking place in the upper units. These units are the final units to be harvested in the sale, and are undergoing  “sanitation thinning” to remove undesirable White Pines, Scarlet Oaks, and Virginia Pines while retaining a high basal area. Walking through the harvest unit, I gained a better understanding of sustainable logging practices and the oversight role of the Forest Service in the process. We inspected cut stems to make sure they were marked to be cut, and looked for damage to residual trees and soil resources. Luckily our local loggers are doing a great job!

Loggers move cut trees to the logging deck

Loggers move cut trees to the logging deck

One of the key goals of the CFLR program is to encourage “utilization of forest restoration by-products to offset treatment costs, to benefit local rural economies, and to improve forest health.” Vegetation management projects like the Rose’s Creek Project help to support the local economy by working with small, family-run loggers. The logging company on this sale is based in Morganton, NC.

Elsewhere in the Rose’s Creek Project area, prep-work is being done on units already harvested under a two-aged regeneration and restoration prescription to conduct site-prep prescribed burning to prepare for shortleaf pine plantings in the spring. These areas have a lower basal area to allow light to reach the shade-intolerant shortleaf pine seedlings.

One of the four shortleaf pine restoration units to be burned this fall

One of the four shortleaf pine restoration units

Prescribed burning across all units planned for shortleaf pine restoration will be conducted this fall.

Logging Benefits Insect Pollinators? New Research Examines The Relationship of Timber Harvest and Bug Habitat

Insect pollinators are critical for maintaining forest plant diversity.  Close to 70% of our flowering plants are pollinated by insects, including most of our spring wildflowers. However, research suggests significant pollinator decline throughout the U.S., likely due to native habitat destruction and climate change.  Interestingly, Southeastern Naturalist just published a new research paper that found that the logging roads and other openings that remain after a tree harvest in fact benefit insect pollinators.Pages from 2014 (Jackson et al) Logging Legacies Affect Insect Pollinator Communities in Southern Appalachian Forests

Timber Management is a key component of the Grandfather Restoration Project, and selective tree harvest is a valuable management tool used to restore native plant and animal communities. The National Forests of the Southern Appalachians were once a significant source for wood products throughout the nation. Once virgin timber was harvested, many areas were replanted with trees that were the most commercially valuable. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) was chosen as it is one of the most economically valuable trees due to its myriad of uses, longevity following harvest, rapid growth, and relatively few defects. Many areas of the Grandfather Ranger District are now dominated by densely planted white pine plantations, but the density of such stands prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor, which inhibits the growth of herbaceous plants and ultimately limits plant and animal diversity.

Over the past 50 years, the priorities of the US Forest Service have shifted. In general, the focus of our National Forest timber management programs are no longer solely for fiber production. As rapid urban development continues throughout the southeastern US, our native plant and animal communities are disappearing and the US Forest Service recognizes this. Fortunately, they also understand that the forests they manage are crucial for the preservation of biodiversity in our country. Although some past harvest practices have, justifiably, made many of us wary due to the environmental damage that can result, research over that past 30 years has demonstrated that well-planned timber management is an effective means of restoring our native plant and animal communities, including insect pollinators:

“Many temperate deciduous forests are recovering from past logging, but the effects of logging legacies and environmental gradients on forest insect pollinators have not been well-studied. In this study, we asked how pollinator abundance and community composition varied with distance from logging roads and elevation in old (logged >90 years ago) and young (logged 20–40 years ago) southern Appalachian forests. In summer, many pollinator groups were more abundant in younger forests and closer to logging roads, likely due in part to more light availability and a greater abundance of floral resources near roads. Total bee abundance was greater near logging roads, but only in younger forests, suggesting that the role of roads in providing nectar and other resources may diminish as forests mature. In spring, many pollinator families were less abundant at mid-distances (2–10 m) from roads compared to road edges (0 m), but abundances were generally the same at 100 m from the road as at road edges. Two important bee families, Apidae and Andrenidae, were strongly associated with high elevations in spring. Our results suggest that logging legacies may provide supplemental resources such as food and nesting sites to insect pollinators during the summer months especially, with the effects of roads often extending at least 100 m into young forests.”

So the next time you find yourself driving, biking, or hiking through the Grandfather Ranger District and come across a timber harvest, realize that although it may look somewhat unappealing in the beginning this work will not only benefit our natural communities over the long-term, but according to this research, it benefits insect pollinators in the short-term.

Access the full article:

Logging Legacies Affect Insect Pollinator Communities in Southern Appalachian Forests
Michelle M. Jackson, Monica G. Turner, and Scott M. Pearson      
Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 13, Issue 2 (2014): 317–336