As most will recall, freezing rain and ice hit Georgia hard in mid-February, putting much of the State in a tough situation. Travel was halted, schools and businesses closed and thousands were without electricity due to the severe conditions.
Yuchi Wildlife Management Area, a 7,800-acre area, is located in one of the most severely impacted counties, Burke County. The weight of the ice that accumulated on the stems and needles of trees at this area coupled with wind conditions caused limbs and trunks to severely bend, or in the worst cases, completely break, leaving 1,250 acres of planted pines severely damaged.
Foresters with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division and the Georgia Forestry Commission surveyed the area and due to the extent of the damage, the consensus is to clearcut the impacted pine stands. Additionally, the DNR Nongame Conservation Section and the DNR Historic Preservation Division assessed the area and reported that a clearcut harvest would have no impacts to threatened and endangered species or cultural resources.
The DNR Forest Management Unit expects harvest of the damaged pines to begin in the near future, with the timber marked for selling during the first part of March.
YUCHI WMA HABITAT MANAGEMENT PLAN
The wildlife habitat management plan at Yuchi WMA includes converting approximately 5,000 acres of off-site slash and loblolly pine stands back into native longleaf pine.
Why the conversion to longleaf pine? Longleaf pine improves habitat for the gopher tortoise, Georgia’s official state reptile. These animals prefer habitat with sandy, well-drained soils which provide a suitable substrate for burrowing, and plentiful amounts of sunlight reaching the forest floor promoting growth of grasses and forbs for food. In order to maintain gopher tortoise habitat, prescribed fire is essential. Longleaf pines are well-adapted to grow in sandy, well-drained soils, are fire tolerant and have open crowns allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor. All of these factors make longleaf pine ideal for reforesting the clearcut area to meet the wildlife management objectives established for Yuchi Wildlife Management Area.
The conversion effort of slash and loblolly pine to longleaf, initiated in 1995, already shows 2,447 acres restored to longleaf pine. The conversion schedule for another 2,300 acres was set for the next eight years. However, this time line moves forward by approximately five years due to the removal of the ice-damaged pines and includes reforesting the clearcut area with longleaf pine seedlings and implementing a prescribed fire burning regime starting as soon as next winter.
If no action is taken with the damaged pines, the area becomes open to infestation of pine beetles, the ability to prescribe burn is decreased, and the potential to make any economic recovery from the timber sale is lost.
For more information about the harvest of this damaged area, contact the DNR Forest Management Unit at 706-557-3257.