Don’t be alarmed if you see smoking rising from the Sandy Creek Nature Center off Commerce Road in Athens-Clarke County sometime in the next couple of months.
A part of the Sandy Creek Nature Center’s forest is scheduled to go up in smoke sometime in the next couple of months, and a little later, trees will be clear-cut from a smaller part of the burned-over area.
It’s for good reasons, explained Randy Smith, facilities manager for the county nature center and its 225 acres.
The controlled burn and clear-cut are part of the beginning stages of the nature center’s “managed forest project,” designed to improve wildlife habitat and teach nature center visitors about forest succession — how forests change over time — and good forest management practices.
“We’re not managing just for trees,” Smith said. “We’re trying to attract certain kinds of plants and animals.”
Workers have already cut firebreaks, and many of the foreign invasive plants that crowd out native species have already been removed from the area of about 30 acres near the Nature Center building.
The management plan calls for five tracts in the 30 acres, four of pine and one of hardwoods. Three of the pine tracts will be planted, and a fourth will be left to naturally reseed. But the three planted tracts won’t all be the same; the plan is for them to show pine forests in different stages of development.
The clear-cut area will be the youngest, and will be for a while a meadow, before trees begin to grow and form a forest canopy. Smith hopes that in that early stage, the area could attract some kinds of animals not seen in the nature center’s forested areas, such as ground-nesting birds.
“Suddenly you have quail, perhaps,” Smith said.
Forests in different stages of development attract different kinds of life, from microorganisms to insects on up to different kinds of birds, reptiles and mammals, he said.
The burn will improve the overall health of the forest and put nutrients in the soil, depleted during the era when almost all of Clarke County was devoted to cotton or other row crops.
Piedmont forests are adapted to periodic fires, and some tree species even need fire. But humans have suppressed that natural fire cycle, Smith explained. Workers will also thin trees from the area, which will help other trees grow larger.
Several state and local agencies are signed up to help with the fire treatment, including a unit of the state Department of Natural Resources that carries out controlled burns in state parks and other properties. The University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the U.S. Forest Service and firefighters from the Athens-Clarke County Fire & Emergency Services Department will also help.
This article was originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald and written by Lee Shearer. Click here to view the story on www.onlineathens.com →