By Eric Staller, Natural Resources Coordinator/Land Manager
“Prescribed Fire is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health, and reduce wildfire risk.”
Prescribed burning is the most important tool a land manager has to manage early successional vegetation and maintain biodiversity; in fact, there is no substitute for it. As a natural process, the benefits of fire include: removing excess fuels to reduce wildfire risk, minimizing hardwood encroachment, decreasing parasite loads, maintaining fire dependent flora and fauna, and recycling nutrients to insure forest and animal health. Tall Timbers Resource Management staff use prescribed fire to burn around 1,400 acres or half of the uplands at Tall Timbers each year, and 178 acres at the Wade Tract Preserve in Thomas County, GA. A prescription is written for all burns. It details burn location, burn objectives, proper weather conditions, smoke management, lighting techniques, desired fire effects, equipment needs, contingency plan, and other safety and emergency contact information. Post burn evaluation (PBE) data points are taken on the properties to determine if the burn objectives were accomplished, and what were the related effects of the fire. Our standard is approximately 1 PBE/2 acres.
Herbicides are used sparingly at Tall Timbers to maintain a high quality of ground cover; a mix of 30% grass, 30% forbs (weeds) and 30% woody vegetation is the goal at Tall Timbers. As with prescribed burning, a prescription should be written for any herbicide application, and some form of evaluation should be done. This prescription should include: herbicide formulations, application techniques, rates, timing, and special considerations. For example; Arsenal® is a selective herbicide that kills hardwoods, most grasses and some forbs; however it does not kill pines or legumes. Garlon®4 is another selective herbicide that will kill hardwoods and pines as well as most forbs (weeds); however it does not kill most grasses. There are many other herbicides on the market and each has its uses (i.e. site preparation, release, herbaceous weed control and mid-story control). Application techniques include a foam brush, boom-less sprayer, hand sprayers and misters, injection, cut stump, and basal treatments. Each technique has its pros and cons. For example, the applicator can adjust the height of a foam brush to put the herbicide on hardwoods that are 4-8 feet high, while not impacting the ground cover below. The boom-less sprayer allows the applicator to cover a larger area in the same amount of time. Rates are determined by the expected level of control, and the target species. Timing of the application varies by product, and is often more important than the rates being used; some are most effective when sprayed in the spring, others in summer and some in the fall. Many herbicides are mixed with some form of surfactant to aid in the uptake of the herbicide into the plant (i.e. mentholated seed oil or MSO, non-ionic adjuvant, crop oil adjuvant, and Limonene). Another important consideration when choosing an herbicide is how it behaves. Some herbicides work via foliar intake, others are soil active, and some are both. Always talk with an extension agent, certified herbicide applicator, or equivalent prior to applying herbicides.
Disking is primarily done in the fall and winter. The timing of disking will determine what suite of plant species will germinate. Past research has shown that fall/winter disking will produce better brood habitat for quail and turkeys. From February through April, disking is also used to create fire breaks.
Mowing is done after burning and in the fall. In general, mowing stimulates grasses and reduces forbs (weeds) and woody re-sprouts. After burning, areas that did not burn, due to erosion gullies, plant species present or downed trees, are mowed to stimulate the grasses, which increase fuels for future burns. Roller chopping is done only in the fall. Usually chopping stimulates forbs and reduces grasses and woody re-sprouts. Soil disturbance in the spring and early summer often leads to an undesirable suite of species such as Crotalaria spectabilis (showy crotalaria or rattle box), Eupitorium capillifolium, (dog fennel) and others.
The gopher tortoise inventory on Tall Timbers began with approximately 80% of property sampled. We have a total of 143 burrows documented in our GIS data base. Of the 143 burrows, 63 are active, 31 are inactive, and 49 are abandoned.
The white-tailed deer census is done in September and October prior to hunting season. The survey gives us an estimate of deer per acre, buck to doe ratio, and recruitment. We also keep observational data by hunters. This data helps to improve buck to doe ratio, and greatly improves our recruitment index.
Twelve blue bird boxes have also been placed on the Henry M. Stevenson Memorial Bird Trail and the Lake Iamonia vista.
For more information about the natural resources program, call Eric at 850/893-4153, x 240 or e-mail Eric Staller.