Sandhills Longleaf Pine Conservation Partnership (SLPCP) Update
By Eric Krueger, The Nature Conservancy
The SLCC hit a major milestone recently with the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the new Forest Plan for the Francis Marion National Forest. The Plan was developed over the last couple years, and SLCC partners were a significant source of support for the Plan. SLCC partners engaged directly in its development and reached out to private landowners and local municipalities to attend Plan workshops and discuss its elements with Forest Service personnel. We credit this process with heading off potential objections to the Plan based on misinformation and simple lack of communication. The USFS personnel both at the Francis Marion District and in the State Office deserve ample credit for the inclusive process, resulting in widespread support for the Plan. The ROD went into effect on May 1, 2017. The Plan directs the USFS to replant 25,000 acres of longleaf woodland and savanna, and enhance an additional 66,000 acres of degraded longleaf woodland and savanna using fire, thinning and mastication.
The Plan calls for annual prescribed fire application to 30-50,000 acres, and expands the core burn area of the Forest. Due to direct engagements with SLCC partners and growing use of Wyden amendments on SLCC partner properties, the Francis Marion District is already well on its way toward this goal, averaging over 35,000 acres of prescribed fire over the last two years. Much of the action addresses legacy effects of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which leveled many areas of the Forest and left 57,000 acres of loblolly-hardwood thickets in its wake. SLCC partners are now growing their engagement in USFS Stewardship contracts on the Forest, which is a great vehicle to accelerate longleaf restoration. For example, a current TNC-USFS Stewardship contract is generating restoration dollars through thinning and is funding the first-ever summer fire crew on the Francis Marion. The new crew is funded for at least four years and has a goal of 5000 acres May-July in each of those years.
Image 1: USFS burn with SLCC Partners, April 19, 2017. Photo by Tom Dooley, The Nature Conservancy.