Oak-Grassland Demonstration Restoration Area
Oak-Grassland - Open Woodland Habitat
An Oak-Grassland Habitat is an open forest or woodland with many different kinds of grasses and wildflowers. This rich "understory" of plants can be maintained today by occasional controlled fire just like it was in past years. Two demonstration areas at LBL will show how frequent controlled fires can encourage many species of plants to grow and flourish. As a wider variety of plants grow, a larger variety of wildlife will also make their homes here. Because these demonstration areas are more open, visibility will be better allowing visitors to see the wildlife and use these areas for recreation.
For thousands of years native people burned the forests to create and maintain necessary grasslands and open woodlands for game animals and food producing plants. Once native people were gone, the frequency of the fires ended and thick forests grew up in many places.
Here at Land Between The Lakes (LBL) two areas are being restored back to oak-grassland habitat. The first area to be restored is about 5,000 acres in the Tennessee portion of LBL near The Homeplace living history farm. A future site located in the Kentucky section of LBL near the Elk & Bison Prairie includes about 3,000 acres.
This project will take nearly four years of thinning and burning to get this type of forest re-established. In the spring of 2005 work began by burning 350 acres within the Tennessee Oak-Grassland Demonstration Area. You can look at the Tennessee Oak-Grassland Demonstration Area to see where we also used controlled fire in the spring of 2006. Can you tell that fires burned here so recently?
About 70 acres of this area were thinned in the summer of 2006. This will provide many different tree sizes and heights to help increase the variety of plants growing on the forest floor. The need for additional thinning of the forest canopy, in selected areas, will be considered in the future.
Once this Oak-Grassland Demonstration Area is established, it will be maintained by controlled fire every 2 to 12 years.
Why is LBL developing Oak-Grassland Areas?
- Many species depend on open, grassy forests, also called woodlands, savannahs, or barrens. Creating them will help to ensure habitat for those dependent species.
- Among hardwood ecosystems, oaks and hickories are adapted to surviving fire. Fire actually gives them a competitive advantage over more shade tolerant species.
- Removal of down or dead timber helps with hazardous fuel management.
- Provide more dispersed outdoor recreation programs, including hunting.
- Native plants and animals will be more visible for wildlife viewers and sight-seers to the area.
- Showcase ecological restoration and the benefits it provides to native wildlife and public recreational use.
- Visitors will be able to watch and learn about the application of various vegetation management practices used to restore native ecological communities.
- Benefits visitors by providing another wildlife viewing opportunity.
What is an Oak-Grassland Area?
The trees are widely spaced supporting a wide variety of native plants and animals in an open understory.
What is controlled fire?
A controlled fire is exactly what the term suggests, a fire that is set under controlled conditions (also known as a prescribed fire), whereas an uncontrolled wildfire is a fire that started through some natural occurrence, such as lightening strikes or some improper human activity - cigarette butts, bad camp fires, etc.
By controlling and selectively burning the understory areas of bushes and small trees, we allow for the growth of stronger and bigger trees, remove potentially dangerous undergrowth, encourage new growth of native vegetation, and end-up with a healthier forest. This type of burning also helps reduce the catastrophic damage of wildfire on our lands and surrounding communities.
What is the size of this area in LBL?
The total acreage is approximately 8,630; with about 5,000 acres in the Tennessee portion of LBL near The Homeplace living history farm and 3,000 acres in the Kentucky portion of LBL near the Elk & Bison Prairie.
How will these Oak-Grassland Areas be developed?
These areas will be managed with controlled burning and selective timber thinning. After the areas have been restored they will be maintained by regular controlled burning. Fire return intervals will range from 2 to 12 years.
Has any work begun on these areas yet?
Controlled fire has already taken place on about 2,975 acres in the Tennessee Oak-Grassland Demonstration Area (within the designated 5,000 acres in Tennessee). These locations are known as Fox Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. In summer of 2006, approximately 70 acres of Fox Ridge were thinned by selective logging to open up the forest canopy.
Will the work be confined to the Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area?
No. The Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area is the focus for this type of management, but it will occur on other sites as well.
Will every acre within the project areas be restored to Oak-Grassland Habitat?
No. In fact the landscape will be a mixture of Oak-Grassland on the driest sites and closed canopy forest in moist areas. On average, about two-thirds of the trees will be removed on the dry sites. The majority of the changes will be along the driest ridges and slopes.
How will wildlife species in these areas be affected?
Some forest-dependent species, such as gray squirrels, may experience a slight loss of habitat in that area. Other species, such as fox squirrels, northern bobwhite quail, wild turkey, white tailed deer, and prairie warblers will benefit in this Oak-Grassland Habitat due to the creation of early successional habitat.
Partners include: The Nature Conservancy, Quail Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Fire Learning Network, and the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, with other partners also expected.