Two granite outcrop pools at Oconee Wildlife Management Area are bearing new life, and renewed scrutiny.
Tom Patrick with the Wildlife Resources Division and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jimmy Rickard recently planted four plugs of the federally endangered mat-forming quillwort in rainwater pools at the WMA’s Eatonton Outcrop. For Wildlife Resources, this marked the first time the primitive fern Isoetes tegetiformans has been raised off-site and planted in the wild, said Patrick, a Nongame Conservation Section botanist who grew the plugs in a baking dish.
The hope is the transplants flourish at the WMA along Lake Oconee.
Mat-forming quillwort is found worldwide only at eight sites in Georgia. Piedmont granite outcrops, home to four federally protected plants in all, are a priority habitat in Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan. Yet, only a few are protected statewide. Heggie’s Rock near Appling, Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain in DeKalb County are the larger, better known sites that are being conserved.
Wildlife Resources’ Game Management Section, which manages and owns part of the 4,800-acre WMA, and Georgia Power, which owns the rest, have signs warning visitors away from the outcrop’s sensitive areas. Patrick also praised Game Management’s oversight. He has seen no sign of disturbance at the site in recent months. Threats to outcrops and the tiny but tough vegetation that clings to them include ATV, mountain bike and foot traffic, all unauthorized.
The rainy winter and spring have been a boon for outcrops. The seasonal pools at Eatonton Outcrop are blooming with life and color, islands of vegetation on a landscape of rock.
As for the mat-forming quillwort, “We will keep putting in plugs as fast as we can grow it,” Patrick said.