ARSA Update: Adaptive Management in Longleaf Reforestation
By Brian Pelc,
The Nature Conservancy
Take a minute and pull up Google Earth. Scroll your pointer to the following coordinates: 30° 09’55.31N 84° 03’17.58W and you’ll be looking down on Florida’s Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area. This 20,000-acre conservation property is cooperatively managed by several Apalachicola Restoration Stewardship Alliance (ARSA) members with the goal of reestablishing longleaf pine on a wet, former industrial slash pine forest that was long unburned. Though the image resembles Ruffles potato chips from 10,000 feet up, this “living laboratory” is helping ARSA members tackle a very squirrelly problem. Longleaf needs light and low competition, but clear cuts are often tough to burn in the early years after planting because of a lack of fine fuels, resulting in a dense shrub layer and stunted or perennial grass stage longleaf. We most commonly find this condition in long unburned, wet to mesic flatwoods where gallberry and titi have grown amok. Managers hope one answer lies in the ridges and valleys of a 4-2-1-2 thinning method that removes wide, linear alleys (4 row take) of off-site pine for longleaf restoration, bookended by leave rows that can continue to contribute needle cast all the way across the restoration lanes. However, like people, every site is unique and the team behind this project has developed a series of adaptive management tools to supplement fire and thinning. Single drum roller chopping, 5’ band and broadcast herbicide applications, when prescribed to individual blocks, can level the playing field for seedlings. Burning the site hot as soon as possible and every 2-3 years thereafter, will lock in the trajectory to desired future condition. Seedlings planted in rows will also allow for future practices like herbicide release and mowing. Adaptive management tools like these have been essential to keeping broad plans on track and desired future condition in the cross hairs.
Image 1: A contracted roller chopper knocked back shrubs in the take rows at Flint Rock WMA in advance of an herbicide site prep and seedling planting, scheduled for December 2016. Photo by David Printiss, 2016.