The Forest Service’s original Loblolly pine removal proposal proposed herbicide applications on 3,264 acres; logging 6,000 acres in the next 5 years, and then re-planting Short Leaf pine seedlings on a 12’ x 12’ spacing (Short Leaf is a native pine, but the close spacing would crowd out other species); and, “re-constructing” 59.2 miles of roads and building another 8.2 miles of new roads. In our opinion, this did not look like ecosystem restoration; rather, it appeared to be the start of another round of pine plantations, along with building miles and miles of new and re-constructed roads.
The Chattooga Conservancy agreed with the need for the project, but was critical of numerous details of the proposal. We recommended the following changes: 1) Employ landscape planning science that is based on soil type, slope and aspect, to predict the potential native vegetation on each former loblolly pine stand site; 2) After cutting the loblolly plantations, regenerate the true native forest type for the Chattooga watershed, which is composed of predominantly hardwood species; and, 3) Do not build or re-construct more system roads for access (by the Forest Service’s own admission, the district already has excessive road densities), but instead manage the loblolly pine sites by either “cut-and-leave” treatments or by “benign neglect,” both of which would favor the regeneration of a native forest type.
The Forest Service’s final decision was to implement 3,172 acres of cut/remove timber harvest; 1,587 acres of cut/leave timber harvest; 5,542 acres of site preparation and release treatments, that could include prescribed burning and herbicides; 2,833 acres of reforestation treatments, to establish 300-435 native trees per acre; 784 acres of “woodland” treatments; maintenance/reconstruction of 47.5 miles of existing Forest Service roads; and constructing 24.9 miles of temporary roads, that would be closed and obliterated after use.
The Loblolly Pine removal project in the Andrew Pickens Ranger District will be ongoing for a number of years. Our comments on the Loblolly project generated some favorable changes to the Forest Service’s original proposal, and citizen oversight of the on-the-ground work is needed. Please contact the Chattooga Conservancy if you are interested in helping monitor this massive project.