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Vol. 3 | No. 3 | June/July 2010   


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Adaptive Management at Tall Timbers

By Eric Staller, Land Manager

Herbert Stoddard, Sr. once said, “Land management is an art that builds on history and is based in science." Because we view land management as research, our philosophy of Land Management at Tall Timbers is to use an adaptive management approach. Adaptive Management is currently the popular buzz phrase to indicate that one is on top of things. However, it has been used by the more astute managers for some time. Herbert Stoddard was a classic example. In Adaptive Management a management plan is produced then closely followed. The efforts of that management plan are tracked and the results carefully recorded. Then comes perhaps the most important part; evaluation of your management efforts. It is here that asking the right questions of your efforts can pay big dividends and separate average managers from excellent managers. For example, did I accomplish my objective to control that sweetgum thicket with just mowing followed by fire? What else have I tried in the past and what were those results compared to the current results? Only after some thought is given to your collective findings and the findings of others do we adapt or change our strategy. The change may be a mere tweaking or it may be something more radical, but it is always based on an object evaluation with some measurement associated with the evaluation versus just an “eyeball estimate” or “windshield cruise.” A typical example would be a prescribed burn manager developing a burn plan for a unit, tracking weather variables while burning, evaluate the burn and whether the objectives were met, and then adapt what you consider as the preferred weather conditions for the next burn on that unit.

At Tall Timbers we utilize a Geographic Information System (GIS) with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in our Adaptive Management approach. To clarify; GIS integrates hardware, software, and GPS data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.Virtually all management occurring on Tall  Timbers is first planed with GIS (useful to know acreage, past management, etc) and then tracked in GIS, (burning, tree planting, herbicide use, post burn mowing, fall blocking, fall disking, supplemental feeding, wildlife monitoring, etc.) and then evaluated in the GIS (post burn evaluations, herbicide evaluations, photo points, etc).

There are many advantages of using GIS/GPS with your Adaptive Management approach. Foremost, it’s the best way to keep spatial data. The spatial data has an attribute table associated with it, and more data can be added to it. It is the most accurate way of tracking management. Many layers of data can be overlaid onto a map. Data or maps can be loaded into a GPS device to allow people to get back to a desired location. The user can produce a “data dictionary” (data entry form) to be loaded into a GPS device to allow all data to be entered into the GPS.  That data can then be downloaded directly into the GIS with the associated attribute table of that layer. All that data represents land management actions, a living history of your management successes and failures. It’s OK to make that occasional mistake, for it is by those mistakes that you often learn the most. Typically we don’t learn if we don’t record them and revisit those notes periodically. GIS helps keep us organized with all the information we need right at our finger-tips.
GIS also can be used to calibrate equipment such as herbicide sprayers, or to determine cost and time of different management techniques. The results are often surprising and enlightening. Having all the land management data geographically referenced is incredibly important in order to pass along the history of that land to subsequent land managers – what has worked, as well as what has not worked.

Post Burn Evaluation image

In this image the light blue dots are the locations of the Post Burn Evaluations (PBE),  and the thin green line is where the tractor did some post burn mowing. The top record in the attribute table shows part of the PBE for the point on the far right side, the 2nd record for the middle point and then far left. All of this data was entered directly into the GPS via the “Data Dictionary” in the field, and then downloaded into GIS, saving much data entry and time. A post burn evaluation should be completed by all burn practitioners, the level of the evaluation should be determined by the objectives of the practitioner, it may be as simple as looking at the percent (%) burned, it will depend on what they are looking for. Regardless, the best way to become a better burn manager is evaluating your burns. For example, in some areas I am just as interested in top kill of short leaf regeneration as I am in hardwood top kill, so it is included in my PBE.

In this image the light blue areas are longleaf plots planted in early 2010. When dealing with a cost share program, GIS is wonderful at documenting every thing required in the agreement (acreage, locations, number of tree clusters, etc).

Tractor route followed while applying herbicide

In this image we can see the route the tractor followed while spraying an herbicide. The attribute table is at the bottom and records important data on how, what, and when the spraying occurred. The dark thin line is where the tractor actually went; I then built a buffer 15 feet off each side based on coverage of the sprayer. You can then determine the acreage covered and adjust the amount of chemical, tractor speed, or water quantity depending on the results.

The mission of Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy is to foster exemplary land stewardship through research, conservation and education.