Dorothy and her husband purchased their property in north Alabama when they were first married more than 40 years ago. They both loved the outdoors and nature, and wanted a tract of land where they could raise their children. For much of the early years, Dorothy’s family enjoyed their woods as they were: the trees blooming each spring, the wildlife critters roaming and feeding on the land, song birds coming and going as they please. She would see logging trucks go by on her quiet road, but she never considered harvesting timber or land management as options for her, as she focused on the critters that lived in her woods. Dorothy thought she was doing the best possible for the health of her woods by simply leaving it alone, and letting nature take its course.
After Dorothy retired, she was fortunate enough to travel. She began exploring the many national parks and famous forests across the country. She hiked the Appalachian Trail, camped in Yosemite, and spied elk caring for their young in New Mexico. On her return trips home, she began to notice that that wildlife she was accustomed to seeing wasn’t wandering her woods anymore. The ground was becoming thick with growth, kudzu was taking over a big section of trees and it was hard for her to walk through and enjoy her property.
She began inquiring who could help answer her questions. A friend recommended the Alabama Forestry Commission and she set up a meeting with a forester. When they met, Dorothy asked a lot of questions as they got to know one another. Her forester provided reading materials on land management and they spoke extensively about what Dorothy wanted to get out of her woods. Dorothy was surprised to hear how management practices like treating invasives and thinning the old trees could be good for wildlife.
Walking the woods together, Dorothy’s forester pointed out the abundance of shortleaf pine on her land. Shortleaf pine, native to north Alabama’s rocky soil, is a key tree species for the critters of the area, especially when it's in the early stages of growth. But because of years of people suppressing natural wildfire and other factors, shortleaf had reached record low numbers, which was effecting wildlife.
Dorothy’s forester, who is a part of a conservation partnership initiative with the American Forest Foundation in the Cumberland Plateau, suggested she attend a Field Day with other landowners. At the Field Day, Dorothy met with wildlife biologists and other foresters who shared similar advice. Hearing from a variety of professionals, she began to understand how forest management could help, not hurt, her forest, and allow her to provide for the wildlife she loved. She was able to sit and discuss her woods with other landowners and she began to feel more confident about what she was hearing.
After the Field Day, Dorothy met with her forester several times, putting together a management plan to restore her forest. With a focus on wildlife, her plan included a number of activities to aid the natural growth of shortleaf pine and enhance the overall health of her woods.
Already, Dorothy has treated kudzu and other invasives on her land, and is scheduled to have her first prescribed burn (read more about controlling invasive species). She even has a thinning in her future management plans.
She continues to work with her forester and read up on sustainable land management and ways she can be a better steward. She is looking forward to next spring to watch and monitor the wildlife on her land and continue to work towards bringing it back to her forest.
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Blog post republished with permission from the American Forest Foundation.
Originally published on July 26, 2016 at https://www.forestfoundation.org/managing-for-love-of-nature