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Habitat Restoration and Conservation

Bog Restoration: A Success Story in the Making

Years of work and thousands of hours of manpower and sweat equity are coming together as the last stages of restoration work are being completed in one of Georgia’s rarest ecological systems- the southern Appalachian mountain bog,. In this case the wetland feature in question would hardly be noticed by passer-by without being pointed out, yet it is a virtual part of the landscape. 

Georgia is home to hundreds of Blue Ridge wetlands; but only a small number may be future bog habitat restoration candidates. Remote mapping and ground-truthing efforts have already located several sites fitting this bill. Restoring this rare habitat across the landscape, one of the most critically endangered habitats of the Southern Appalachians, is a lofty goal. While fewer than 15 mountain bogs today are under active restoration in Georgia, conservationists see the need to conserve more.

Each bog is important in its own way, exhibiting slight differences in species composition, elevation, and hydrology, making each bog truly unique. Typically small, between a tenth of an acre and five acres, these bog habitats are associated with seeps, springs or small creeks and provide critical habitat for a variety of species which are found nowhere else. While some of these managed bogs serve as head start sites for the federally threatened bog turtle, others are outplanting sites for the state-protected montane purple pitcherplant and federally threatened swamp pink, some of Georgia’s rarest species.

Although mountain bog wetlands can demonstrate resiliency over time, it doesn’t mean that such habitats and the species depending on them can’t benefit from restoration activities. One bog habitat that is the first of three subjects of a restoration study initiated by DNR in 2007 was a functioning hayfield just 30 years ago, having been converted years earlier. Although not ideal habitat, a bog turtle population survived within the ditches of the converted wetland. The field became overgrown, making it increasingly less unsuitable for bog turtles.

Habitat restoration of this site that consisted the mechanical removal of woody vegetation, has given the resident bog turtle population a better chance of long-term survival. Open bogs created by beaver over a multi-decade period don’t share the problem of woody re-sprouts that have to be tended for years in mechanically restored bogs.

This eight year restoration study is aimed at determining the most effective (and efficient) approach for controlling woody vegetation using a combination of initial and follow-up treatments including herbicide and prescribed fire. Initial observation of plots treated just two autumns ago show promise for a new protocol that will save  both manpower and conservation dollars in the future, which in turn will allow members of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) to focus their collective attention on the restoration of other bogs.     

Landscape-level bog restoration involves not only clearing of selected sites, but also finding and taking careful inventory of other nearby wetlands that may be suitable for restoration , and safeguarding genetic material of rare plants through seed collection, propagation, outplanting, and monitoring of these outplantings within restored sites. An ideal example of successful rare plant safeguarding involves the case of the montane purple pitcherplant whose numbers have grown from less than twenty surviving individuals in the mid-1980’s to over a thousand now at greenhouses and in the wild at five restored bogs.

Mountain bog restoration is listed as a high-priority conservation action in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a blueprint for conservation in the state. It is also an important part of the U.S. Forest Service’s plans for stimulus money provided for critical habitat work.

“The stimulus money will help us speed up recovery of the bogs on (Chattahoochee) National Forest land by providing the funds necessary to complete the more labor-intensive shrub clearing activities associated with bog restoration,” Forest Service wildlife biologist Mike Brod said.

One of the key components of bog restoration work is the capability to bring together a network of agencies, organizations and volunteers in order to complete what often turns out to be a multi-year ordeal. While agencies such as DNR and the U.S. Forest Service begin the initial overhaul of the sites, much of the maintenance falls upon partner-created organizations like the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA), which includes the Atlanta Botanical Garden, State Botanical Garden, DNR and Zoo Atlanta to name a few.

“Obviously, the primary long-term goal of any habitat restoration work is to be successful at bringing a habitat back to a desired condition required by a target group of species – a state that is as close to a “natural” condition as you can make it, and then be afforded the ability walk away,” said Mincy Moffett a botanist with the Department of Natural Resources.

“Unfortunately due to the way we have fragmented our forests and the lack of natural disturbance factors, such as beavers, the continued maintenance for these bogs is necessary and usually done by volunteers. However, by relying upon dedicated volunteers for much of the ongoing monitoring, all the partner organizations, including DNR, save valuable resources, allowing them to focus on the discovery and restoration of additional bog sites.”

While DNR is gearing up to complete the restoration experiment in the former hay field, turned bog, , many other bog sites still have a long way to go. This winter prescribed fire treatments will be installed to test hypotheses and compare techniques. Although already considered to be a success story, only time will tell if long-term bog restoration work will provide the necessary critical habitat for the rare species which depend on it.

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