We received several questions about Land Between The Lakes Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas as described in our brochure.
Editors Note: The 2007 Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas brochure referenced in these questions can be found here.
1) What recreational opportunities are created by Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas?
Providing for recreation opportunities plays a role in all that we do here at Land Between The Lakes.
Overall, our recreation opportunities have improved by restoring a native ecosystem to support a diverse wildlife that depends on open under-story forests with shrubs, wildflowers, and grass components. The dominant tree species of oak/hickory also provides abundant food and shelter for larger animals. Deer and wild turkeys thrive in this type of habitat.
Completed projects on the ground have improved wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities throughout Land Between The Lakes. The two Oak Grassland Demonstration Areas, along with the protected habitats in the Elk & Bison Prairie, South Bison Range, intersecting utility rights-of-way, and regional wildlife refuges both south and north of us, are links that provide much needed diverse and open landscape corridors for birds, mammals, and pollinators to travel for food and shelter.
The brochure reflected our recreation and environmental education plans for the Prior Creek Project in the south oak-grassland area. You can find the Prior Creek Project Environmental Assessment online at www.landbetweenthelakes.us/stewardship/land-resource-management/projects/project_detail/?project=16649.
In the Prior Creek Project we surveyed 22 miles of bike/hike trails with trailheads and an additional 2-mile birding trail with two observation blinds. We also completed site surveys for six interpretive pull-offs for a driving tour and a 5-acre water impoundment area to create a wetland habitat.
Before these new projects were started, the Forest Service committed to A Framework for Sustainable Recreation in 2010 on a national scale. You can find this document online at www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5346549.pdf.
This Framework required the Forest Service to evaluate existing structures and maintenance requirements on everything to include proposed projects like the wetland habitat, signage, trails, pull-offs, and viewing blinds proposed in our Prior Creek Area.
By Fiscal Year 2012, appropriated funds for facilities and roads maintenance were significantly trending downward. This was also true for Land Between The Lakes. In the spring of 2012 and we worked with members of our public, partners, community leaders, our Advisory Board, various interest groups, and users to develop a way forward to meet these budget reductions.
By the end of the budget reduction meetings, we agreed with our stakeholders to concentrate on current facility and recreation maintenance needs. Instead of a new wetland habitat, signage and trials for the Prior Creek Project, we sought funding for things like eight new shower buildings at Piney Campground.
In October of 2013, the USDA Forest Service agreed that “… no net increase in total trail miles would occur.” That statement of action document can be found online at www.bcha.org/media/uploads/2014/03/30/files/US_Forest_Service_Statement_of_Action_re_GAO_Trails_Report_Dec.2013.pdf.
This agreement resulted from a Government Accounting Office audit on the Forest Service’s 158,000 miles of trails and subsequent recommendations. That audit can be found online at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-618.
Since we completed the required NEPA and Environmental Assessment analysis for the recreational activities and environmental education elements in the Prior Creek Area, these projects are ready to implement at a future time.
2) Please provide a list of environmental education opportunities and who beneficiaries are.
We strategically placed both Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas next to developed environmental education, dispersed outdoor recreation areas, and Core Areas. The Kentucky oak-grassland area surrounds the Elk & Bison Prairie and the Tennessee oak-grassland area surrounds the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and lies next to South Bison Range.
The open conditions of the Oak-Grassland Demonstration Restoration Areas are expected to benefit wildlife, including some rare and declining species. The proximity of these oak grassland areas to developed environmental education and dispersed outdoor recreation areas enhance opportunities for wildlife viewing, facility and non-facility environmental education, natural history study, and dispersed recreation. By placing them next to our Core Areas, the Core serves as unmanaged controls in monitoring and research studies.
Both the north and south Oak-Grasslands Restoration Demonstration Areas provide outdoor classrooms for local and regional universities. Some students conduct research studies on the effects of land management practices – pre and post management; others come to see results obtained from best management practices applied on the ground that students learn about in their indoor classrooms.
Topics of study thus far include vegetation, birds, bats, and insects in the southern oak-grassland. In the northern area, studies include the black racer and copperhead snakes, along with other reptiles and amphibian species.
The main universities conducting on-going studies and observations on the oak-grassland areas include:
- Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Huntsville, AL
- Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL
- Murray State University in Murray, KY
- Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN
- Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, TN
- University of Tennessee at Knoxville, TN
Two examples of research being conducted in our oak-grassland areas include Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area Oak Savanna Preliminary Results completed in January of 2010 by Seth A. Barrioz, a student from University of Tennessee. It can be found at http://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=utk_gradthes. A more recent research report that includes research conducted on Land Between The Lakes is for Vander Yacht, Andrew Lee, “Vegetation Response to Oak Savanna and Woodland Restoration in the Mid-South USA.” This 2013 University of Tennessee Master’s Thesis can be found at http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_gradthes/1690.
For the last two years when Southern Illinois University students visit in May, they’ve allowed us to include regional media members on their field trip. These field trips provide a frame of reference when reporting on Forest Service land and natural resource management practices. It also gives media additional opportunity to talk with students and professors about land and natural resource management practices and the future of forestry. We’ve received positive feedback from most of our invited media on these trips.
In 2015 we added an environmental education stop on our Familiarization Tours along Jenny Ridge in our northern oak-grassland area. On this stop tour groups see results of thinning and prescribed burning — along with a look at a Core Area where little to no resource management has taken place over last 50 years. We have been fortunate to see two bobcat crossings on two different tours. One rare sighting in May occurred at Jenny Ridge and the other in June happened as we were leaving Homeplace 1850s Farm – both next to an oak-grassland area.
In March 2010, Homeplace 1850 living history farm presented “Prescribed Fire on the Farm” and “What is the Oak Grassland Demonstration Restoration Area?” Over 150 visitors were on site while the Forest Service Fire Crew conducted a prescribed burn in the tall grass fields nearby. Staff also answered questions about prescribed fire and the Oak Grassland area.
Woodlands Nature Station also includes visits to both Oak Grassland Areas in their annual public photo tours.
3) Please provide data gathered on the benefits to the declining species with increases or decreases in the Barbed Rattlesnake Root, Barn Owl, Prairie Warbler, Northern Pine Snake, and Bobwhite Quail in the Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas or any others not listed that have been studied.
All of these species help Land Between The Lakes as species of viability concern. Specifically, the Prairie Warbler and Northern Bobwhite Quail also serve management indicator species (MIS) for us. A management indicator species is an animal or plant selected for use as a planning tool. They help us set objectives, analyze effects of alternatives, and monitor Area Plan implementations.
We have not seen any new occurrences within either Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas for Barbed Rattlesnake Root, Barn Owl, and Northern Pine Snake since we began our restoration work.
Prairie Warbler: Serves as our management indicator species for oak-woodlands and a species of viability concern because of population declines. Because of our restoration efforts in our Oak-Grassland Demonstration Areas, we expect to enhance habitat conditions for this management indicator species and help increase prairie warbler populations within our multi-state region.
Northern Bobwhite Quail: Serves as our management indicator species to represent habitat conditions associated with grassland and cultivated community types that include brushy areas and thickets, tall herbs, grasses, and saplings. The bobwhite quail is also considered a Bird of Conservation Concern by the US Fish & Wildlife. Information about this designation can be found online at www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/currentbirdissues/management/bcc.html. The bobwhite had not been detected on Land Between The Lakes during point counts since 1998 until 2014, when it was spotted in our South Bison Range next to the Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area. We expect the population trend for this species to increase as we continue to implement our Area Plan.
Eastern Meadowlark: We chose the Eastern Meadowlark to serve as our management indicator species to represent grassland species. Eastern Meadowlarks prefer short to medium height grasses of the grassland community and favors somewhat taller grasses for nesting rather than foraging. This species was last observed on Land Between The Lakes in 1995. We still need to create a desirable woodland habitat for this management indicator species within our Oak Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas. As we continue to maintain the oak-grassland areas through prescribed burning, the Eastern meadowlarks may return, provided suitable habitat conditions exist.
Eastern Bluebird: The Eastern Bluebird was chosen as our management indicator species to represent open forest situations. The Eastern Bluebird is also one of our watchable wildlife demand species and even serves as the bird on the State of Tennessee’s wildlife license plate. [Source: www.tnwatchablewildlife.org/about.cfm] We have placed nest boxes throughout Land Between The Lakes. A volunteer couple has been conducting our Bluebird Counts for 25 years.
Eastern Wild Turkey: We selected the Eastern wild turkey an indicator of the effects of management actions on hunting and bird-watching opportunities. This species is adapted to a variety of habitat conditions, and generally requires a combination of conditions to prosper. With the European migration and settlements, according to the Nature Almanac, “Wild Turkeys disappeared first in western Kentucky in the late 1800’s…” [Source: www.naturealmanac.com/archive/wild_turkey/wild_turkey.html] After many years of habitat rehabilitation, wild turkeys returned to the region and hunting began again in 1964. Part of this early wild turkey restoration success took place in the 65,000 acres of the Kentucky Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Lyon County. Today our harvest data shows our turkey populations have remained relatively stable on Land Between The Lakes since 2000.
Since vegetation management has occurred within both Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, we’ve observed the Red-headed Woodpecker and the Great-crested Flycatcher. Over at least the past five years, the Henslow’s Sparrow has been observed within the Elk & Bison Prairie. Management within this area includes the use of prescribed fire, hay-cutting, and mowing to maintain habitat conditions this grassland bird species of viability concern requires.
The two Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, along with the protected habitats in the Elk & Bison Prairie, South Bison Range, intersecting utility rights-of-way, and regional wildlife refuges both south and north of us, serve as links that provide much needed “ diverse and open landscape corridors” for birds, mammals, and pollinators to travel for food and shelter.
Our birders have been documenting sightings on eBird for over a decade. Birders have recorded 52 species of birds in the southern oak-grassland area in the Prior Creek Area. The list can be found at: http://ebird.org/ebird/GuideMe?cmd=decisionPage&getLocations=hotspots&hotspots=L630939&yr=all&m=. More sightings can be found at http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspots and typing in “Land Between The Lakes.” In the Elk & Bison Prairie, 105 species have been recorded. Both of these locations sit next to an oak-grassland area.
4) What variety of trails has the OGRDA provided? Have any trails been built? What trails are planned? What interpretive trails have been built or planned?
We proposed, and expected to develop, new trails in the Prior Creek Area of the Oak Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area in the Tennessee portion of Land Between The Lakes. The potential still exists for these projects to move forward if the public views them as a high enough priority and funding or partnering opportunities are available. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Audit finding that led to the direction of “… no net increase in total trail miles would occur.” This finding requires the Forest Service to work with the public and determine lower priority trials that could be decommissioned. [Source: http://www.bcha.org/media/uploads/2014/03/30/files/US_Forest_Service_Statement_of_Action_re_GAO_Trails_Report_Dec.2013.pdf.
We have completed the National Environmental Policy Act analysis in the Prior Creek Project Area. We thinned 1,800 acres for woodland habitat. We have also conducted controlled burns in the area twice. All this effort could facilitate us constructing the 22 miles of non-motorized, single track trails, four small trailheads, six interpretive pull-offs, a 5-acre wetland habitat, and a 2-mile birder trail with two observation blinds still in the future.
You can find the trail details in our Environmental Assessment for the project online at www.landbetweenthelakes.us/stewardship/land-resource-management/projects/project_detail/?project=16649.
5) The Brochure states approximately four years will be needed to establish the desired OGRDA. Is this still the belief, if not, how many years will be needed now? Has that changed or is the current area exactly the desired landscape you seek?
Since 2008 we’ve conducted timber treatments and prescribed burning within the Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas. We have thinned around 20 percent of the total 8,360 acres. We’ve completed the analysis to develop recreation activities and environmental education opportunities in the Prior Creek Area in the Tennessee Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area.
We agree more projects are needed to meet our desired state of restoration for both Kentucky and Tennessee oak-grassland areas. We expect these areas to provide a diverse setting for dispersed recreation, wildlife viewing, natural history study, environmental education activities, and hunting.
In 2007 when we produced that brochure, we believed we could fully implement the Prior Creek Project in Tennessee within the four-year timeframe. Priorities and conditions, like the GAO trails audit and the 2009 ice storm, changed that original time frame. The planned work in the Prior Creek Project is important in moving towards our desired oak-grassland condition for that area.
Besides the Prior Creek Project, the only restoration planned for the oak-grasslands areas is to maintain the areas through controlled burns.
6) Please provide all monitoring reports regarding the numerous plots which include effects of fire on plants, trees and forest animals. Along with any other Monitoring reports regarding the OGRDA.
We release an annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report every year. You can find them online under the Stewardship tab at https://landbetweenthelakes.us/stewardship/land-resource-management/planning/.
Our last comprehensive monitoring report for the Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas was completed in our Fiscal Year 2013 Monitoring and Evaluation Report.
We have collected data on vegetation in macroplots in the oak-grassland areas for trending data comparison. We plan to collect more data this year, compile the data, analyze it, and then report findings in our 10-year Monitoring and Evaluation Report next year.
As listed before, examples of research being conducted in our oak-grassland areas by students can be found at http://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=utk_gradthes and a more recent report at http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_gradthes/1690.