Resource Management

Natural Resource Stewardship

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area supports the USDA Forest Service mission: to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations through forestry and open lands management.

Sustainable natural resource stewardship integrates forest, open lands, fire, and wildlife management. Together, these programs help restore native habitats, protect ecosystems, and increase watershed health by responding to environmental threats such as non-native invasive species.

We focus on encouraging growth of native species such as shortleaf pines, oaks, hickories, native warm season grasses, and forbs which provide habitat for an abundance of wildlife. Over 1,130 native flora species thrive here. We also provide food and habitat for 356 species of wildlife.

In combination with prescribed fire, we use timber thinnings to selectively cut trees — allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor, while prescribed burning helps provide bare mineral soil for seeds to germinate. These two processes help mimic naturally occurring conditions that are essential for species like shortleaf pine, oaks, and hickories to continue their life cycle.

If left completely unmanaged, Land Between the Lakes’ forest composition would change. For example, wetter soil types would shift from current composition toward maple, beech trees, and other species that prefer shade. In addition, untreated areas would also diminish the young plants that flourish after a timber thinning or a prescribed fire, which become food for wildlife.

Fire had been suppressed for 80 years at Land Between the Lakes. Repressing fire in a fire adaptive ecosystem causes problems with several native tree species like the shortleaf pine and oak trees which depend on prescribed fire to reproduce and survive. In 2004 we restored the original fire regime to encourage habitat for a variety of native plant and animal species. Our goal is to average 10,000 total acres of prescribed burns annually.

Site-specific archeological studies confirm that Land Between the Lakes has been a location of human activity since the earliest known Native American cultures. Heritage resource protection helps preserve this rich history in support of land management, recreation, and education. 

Open Lands

We maintain 5% or approximately 8,395 acres of open lands to enhance biodiversity, provide food for wildlife, and give the public much desired wildlife viewing opportunities. We work with partners such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Quail Unlimited to manage these areas. Cooperative farming activities also take place on about 3,654 acres of open lands.


We work hard to protect the regions’ native species. Factors causing oak decline include poor soil, forest composition, tree age, wildfires, insect defoliation, drought, and ice damage. Root and canker pathogens and boring insects can kill also trees. Insects such as the emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, and oak borer harm wildlife habitat diversity because they prevent trees from providing food and cover for wildlife. Stressed and weakened trees from poor growing conditions are more likely to stop growing and die. Our Area Plan includes restoration projects to address oak diseases and decline, especially in red oak species whose acorns are a major food source for wildlife at Land Between the Lakes.

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area offers multiple uses for recreation and environmental education which require multiple tools for land and resource management.
While visiting, you may see various management activities in progress. In some areas we maintain open lands using prescribed fire. In other areas you might see trees being planted, thinned, or harvested. These efforts offer diverse habitats for the plant and animal communities of our area. For instance, some tree species require full sunlight to grow and birds like quail require ground cover to hide their nests from predators.Our Land and Resource Management Plan created in 2004 still guides our resource management efforts today.

By managing the habitat, we manage the wildlife. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency serve as our partners. Wildlife includes white-tailed deer, Fallow deer, American bison, elk, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, river otters, mice, squirrels, moles, shrews, bats, and birds.

Situated in the Mississippi Flyway, we host a variety of migratory birds. Bald eagles, gulls, ducks, geese, hummingbirds, warblers, tanagers, great blue heron, ospreys, owls, and hawks live here. Our two large, flowing lakes and nearby rivers provide ample food and habitats for a birders paradise every day of the year.