Rx Fire Planned at Tallulah Gorge State Park to Help Habitat, Wildlife

Social Circle, GA
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 12:00

State and federal agencies are planning a controlled burn at Tallulah Gorge State Park this spring to benefit unique wildlife at one of Georgia’s most unique places.

This prescribed fire will cover 1,300 acres of the northeast Georgia park and adjacent Chattahoochee National Forest and Georgia Power lands on the gorge’s north side. Areas near heavily used sites such as the park’s campground and interpretive center will not be burned. Organizers will conduct the burn soon, although exactly when will be determined by factors such as wind direction and humidity levels.

This will be the sixth prescribed fire in the last 15 years at the state park, as managers and biologists work to restore and maintain wildlife habitat in and along the two-mile-long canyon near Tallulah Falls.

Controlled burns have long been used to manage habitat and minimize the risk of wildfires. In addition to these objectives, prescribed fires at Tallulah Gorge are helping plants and animals that thrive from regular sweeps of fire. Previous burns have improved habitat for species considered high priorities for conservation in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. The plan is a comprehensive strategy to conserve native animal and plant species before they become rarer and costlier to save and protect.

Senior wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said the fires have restored beetle-ravaged stands of pine—including table mountain pine, which needs fire to open its cones to seed—and opened forest canopies so wildflowers and other native groundcover can flourish. “We’re on the cusp of really seeing some very significant changes,” Klaus said.

Plants gaining ground include white-fringeless or monkeyface orchid, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and roundleaf sundews, which eat small insects. Though rare in north Georgia, both species are found along the gorge rim and need the sunny conditions prescribed fires provide.

A rare lily called turkeybeard also stands to benefit. While the species is possibly no longer found at Tallulah Gorge, habitat has been restored to the point that turkeybeard could be reintroduced, Klaus said.

David Vinson, a wildlife biologist with the USDA Forest Service, is excited about the joint burn with state partners. Conducted about every three years in the gorge, prescribed fire creates a diverse landscape and habitat for wildlife varying from bats, raptors and songbirds to white-tailed deer, black bear, ruffed grouse and eastern wild turkeys, Vinson explained.

Park Manager Jennifer Jones also is looking forward to the ecological benefits the fire will provide. Gorge visitors are “typically understanding of the importance of fire,” Jones said. “They know we are working diligently with burn teams to ensure everyone’s safety, even when they see or smell smoke.”

The burn unit is across from safe overlook spots on the gorge’s southern rim, including along U.S. 441. The location provides a prime opportunity for the public to view the burn and learn about the need for prescribed fire.

The Forest Service and Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources and State Parks & Historic Sites divisions will conduct the burn. Participants will also include the Georgia Forestry Commission and Georgia Power.

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