Grandfather Project Highlighted in USDA Report

On Tuesday, USDA released a Forest Service report that documents the significant efforts to increase the pace and scale of restoration on the landscape to create resilience within forests and natural resources. The report highlights the extensive work the Forest Service has undertaken over the last few years to confront serious challenges facing forests and grasslands.

The first initiative that is highlighted is the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, with a spotlight on the Grandfather Restoration Project. Out of 20+ projects across the country, the fact that we were chosen as the highlight in this high-impact report says a lot about the hard work and great collaboration here on the Grandfather!

USDAreportGrandfather Restoration Project North Carolina: The Grandfather Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project brings together diverse partners to restore the forest health and resilience of a unique section of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. The project is reducing fire risk, removing invasive species, improving wildlife habitat, and increasing recreation opportunities. One of the project’s many successes is the work across ownerships to remove Japanese knotweed from the Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River Corridor. This invasive plant species takes over riparian areas, competing with native vegetation and reducing the quality of trout habitat in the waters of Wilson Creek. Successful treatment of Japanese knotweed requires removing the plant from both the National Forest System and privately owned land in the river corridor. The Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, and the partner group Friends of Wilson Creek are working on National Forest System lands and with private property owners to remove Japanese knotweed, with plans to eradicate Japanese knotweed from the area by 2017.

Check out the full report here: From Accelerating Restoration To Creating and Maintaining Resilient Landscapes and Communities Across the Nation

 

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Partnership for the Wilson Ridge Trail: A Mountain Biker’s Alderaan

I think it’s fair to say the majority of our efforts with the Grandfather CFLR are ecologically driven.  The same goes for this blog.  But I want to take a quick moment to recognize one CFLR effort that is reaching beyond that.  This year like many years we allocate a bit of the CFLR efforts to trail work, particularly where there is opportunity to improve the hydrologic function of a trail.

So, this year we are working with the relatively newly formed Northwestern NC Mountain Bike Alliance (Alliance) to focus both volunteer efforts and Forest Service efforts on the Wilson Ridge trail.  The Grandfather Ranger District has been working with the Alliance to prioritize trails on the Grandfather District that are open to mountain bikes, need some work and are constant with the Pisgah Trails Strategy.  We landed on Wilson Ridge as the top priority.

Alliance_WRTOn the Wilson Ridge Trail the Alliance has already hosted six workdays, totaling 147 hours of volunteer work to maintain and improve four miles of this trail, including placing rolling grade dips and protecting two seeps along the trail.  On top of those efforts the Alliance has just received an IMBA/CLIF Bar Trail Preservation Grant to assist them with putting a trail machine on the upper legs of the trail.  Pair those with a Forest Service contract to repair a mile and a half of trail and we’re making some great progress on a very accessible trail.

Trails are how we get out and into the Forest.  Providing good user experiences are some of our best opportunities to get folks excited about the nature and about stewardship.   I’m very excited about the partnerships coming together to better the experience for mountain bikers on the Grandfather Ranger District.

GUEST POST: Controlled Burn Brings New Life

Guest Post by Owen Carson, Plant Ecologist, Equinox Environmental Consultation and Design Inc.

I have spent several days over the last two weeks hiking along Bark Camp Ridge through the Wilson Creek controlled burn as part of an invasive species control project along upper Wilson Creek.  I also had the opportunity last year to observe the pre-burn condition of the forest.  Through those successive visits I was able to see the full effect of the fire on the forest structure and how it has started to restore balance within the ecosystem.  Before the burn, the dense understory was dominated by ericaceous species such as mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), punctatum (Rhododendron carolinianum), blueberries (Vaccinium sp.), huckleberries (Gaylussacia sp.), and dog hobbles (Leucothoe sp.); the mid-story was crowded with Eastern white pine saplings (Pinus strobus).

Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern

After the fire swept through, the shrub layer on mid to upper slopes was reduced significantly, and that’s when I began to see an explosion of regeneration within the herbaceous layer.  First to pop up was a suite of ferns; bright green stems of bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), and hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) and robust, downy fiddleheads of Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) were in stark contrast with the charred ground.

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Dwarf Violet Iris

Then came clumps of dwarf violet iris and dwarf crested iris (Iris verna and I. cristata), their nearly-fluorescent blossoms like splashes of paint.  Large clusters of gaywings (Polygala paucifolia), a relatively uncommon plant of intact acidic forests, began to show their bright pink flowers, stimulated by an increase in light to the forest floor.

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Showy Orchid

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Pink Lady’s Slipper

Last but not least the orchids made their appearance, notably showy orchids (Galearis spectabilis) and pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule), the latter being so stimulated by the fire that thousands of individual plants in various stages of flowering were observed.

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Shortleaf Pine Seedling

On my last day out there, I stumbled across numerous emergent seedlings of the fire-dependent pitch pine (P. pungens), the cones of which require the heat of a fire to release their seeds and prepare them for germination.

Watching these transitions was quite an amazing sight, and a true testament to the benefits of prescribed fire in forest communities where it has been long-suppressed.

Burn Stats: Date – March 18, Size – 1240 Acres, Location – Wilson Creek Headwaters near Gragg, Purpose – Fuel Reduction and Restoration of Fire Adapted Ecosystems, Partners – US Forest Service, NC Forest Service, PatRick Environmental, Treatment – 5th Prescribed Burn

 

Japanese weed a growing problem at Wilson Creek

The Grandfather Restoration Project has been highlighted in the news once again! A story detailing the invasive species work being done at Wilson Creek was featured on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Lenior, NC Newspaper, The Lenior News Topic.

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“In the 1920s, Bill Crump ordered a packet of seeds from a Sears Roebuck catalog to help him stave erosion after a flood washed through his woodworking mill in Cary’s Flat, near the headwaters of Wilson Creek.

In the 70 years since then, the plant that grew from those seeds, Japanese knotweed, has multiplied exponentially, migrated down the creek and taken up residence along uninhabited stream banks.

Today, what was supposed to be a fix has become a big problem for the ecology in the Wilson Creek area.”

The story brings attention to the Japanese knotweed overtaking the Wilson Creek Corridor, and highlights both the work of the NC Wildlife Resource Commission and the US Forest Service.

Read the full article on the newspaper’s website here: Japanese Weed a Growing Problem at Wilson Creek

Rockhouse Creek Prescribed Burn: First ever Growing Season Burn for US Forest Service in the NC Mountains

Exciting news from the Grandfather! We found a window of rain-free days and were able to pull off our first growing season burn yesterday at Rockhouse Creek. This is the first time that a landscape-scale growing season burn has been implemented on Pisgah or Nantahala NFs (beyond site prep burning). While the stated goal was fuels reduction, we were also looking to further the ecosystem change at the site from a mostly closed-canopy Oak-Hickory forest with little herbaceous growth, to a more open woodland condition with a diverse understory.

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Stats

Date: July 8th 

Size: 560 acres

Location: Wilson Creek headwaters near Roseboro, NC

Purpose: Fuel Reduction

Partners: NC Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Appalachian RD, Pisgah RD, Tusquitee RD, Cheoah RD, Nantahala RD

Treatment #: 4th (last 3 burns were dormant season, last burn 5 yrs ago)

 

The Rockhouse unit was lit by hand, with lighting crews working along the ridges and holding crews along the roads. While humidity was predicted to drop into the 40s the afternoon of the burn, spot weather indicated humidity in the 60s-70s on the site. A dense layer of Mountain Laurel regrowth on the ridges kept the humidity even higher near the ground. Because of the high humidity, it was difficult to get the site to burn even with receptive fuels.  Generally, following ignition we’d get good initial intensity, but it would weaken pretty quickly.  Intermittent 10mph gusts, cloud breaks, and canopy gaps would help increase intensity and spread, and certainly areas where we would strip farther downslope and get some run upslope helped as well. We were able to blacken an estimated 25% of the burn unit. The burn plan differed from dormant season burns in that care was taken to limit flame lengths to 1-2ft to limit overstory hardwood mortality.  

 

Although only 25% of the unit burned, we count this as a success, both in reducing fuels and allowing fire managers in western NC experience with growing season burns. It also provided a great training opportunity for summer students training in fire from the Tusquitee, Cheoah, Nantahala, and Grandfather RDs to participate in a prescribed burning operation. We will look at conducting another growing season burn next summer, taking into account lessons learned from the Rockhouse site. We will look for burn units with a more open overstory, larger pine component, and a shorter time since the last entry (2-3yrs) to increase the receptiveness of the fuels.

 

6 monitoring plots were installed in the Rockhouse burn unit, and pre-burn monitoring was conducted prior to this entry using the Fire Learning Network protocol. We will conduct immediate post burn monitoring over the next couple weeks, and will look at results again next growing season. I will share that data with the group once we get a good picture of the impacts of the burn.

 

Japanese Knotweed: Wilson Creek’s Most Unwanted Invasive Species

The Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River corridor in Caldwell County is a priority area for non-native invasive species treatments under the Grandfather Restoration Project. One of the most prevalent and destructive invasive species along the river is Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), which takes over riparian areas, competing with native vegetation and reducing the quality of trout habitat in the waters of Wilson Creek. First planted on private property in the early 1900’s for erosion control, the Japanese Knotweed can now be found throughout the Wilson Creek area.

Volunteers work to remove Japanese Knotweed from riparian areas along Wilson Creek

Volunteers work to remove Japanese Knotweed from riparian areas along Wilson Creek

Wilson Creek has mixed ownership, with Forest Service lands in the headwaters and downstream. Treating Japanese knotweed only on Forest Service property would not accomplish the objectives of the Grandfather Restoration Project, as plants would continue to wash downstream from private property. In order to fully eradicate Japanese knotweed from the river corridor, it is critical that individual property owners work with the Forest Service to properly treat infestations on their portion of the river.

In order to educate both private property owners and the visiting public about Japanese knotweed, the Grandfather Restoration Project has posted flyers throughout the area that highlight the species as Wilson Creek’s Most Unwanted Invasive Species. Already, several property owners, including the Wilson Creek Visitors Center run by the non-profit organization “Friends of Wilson Creek”, have expressed interest in controlling the species on their riverfront properties. With the help of these private landowners, as well as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Grandfather Restoration Project hopes to eradicate Japanese knotweed from the area by 2017.