Land Management Practices Archives

 

Due to it’s density, gamma grass has a swift, steady hot burn. Ideal weather conditions contribute to the smoke’s straight rise above the field.

 

 

 

Dick Conley (left) and Ken Goddard observing a switchgrass field post-control burn.

*Please note – this article is not to be utilized as a resource or guide for planning your own control burn but simply for educational purposes only. Any control burn must go through the proper safety measures, permits and notifications specified under local, state and federal laws and regulations.

 

Most of us, when we see a field engulfed in flames tend to tense up, hope things don’t get out of hand, and are glad it is not our project to tend to! For one man in East Tennessee, the responsibility is often found on his shoulders. When you need a control burn expert for warm season native grasses, the person to call is retired TWRA wildlife habitat biologist and FLC Board Member, Dick Conley.
For 39 years Dick Conley worked for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Retired in 2007, Mr. Conley currently provides services as a biologist/forest consultant for several land owners in East Tennessee. He specializes in restoring native warm season grasses and soil building legumes.
In March of 2013, Dick Conley provided a control burn within several sections native warm season grasses within Gene Hartman’s farm. Back in 2008 Mr. Hartman and his wife Becky, partnered with FLC on a conservation easement covering 920 acres on their farm in Roane County.   Also there to learn more about these type of control burns was Ken Goddard, Extension Biofuels Specialist with the University of Tennessee.
According to Conley, the most important question to ask before you begin a control burn is, “What is your overall objective for your farm? And in this case it is for us to promote quail management. And as a result of that, you are also managing for a multitude of different species like song birds, deer, and turkey.” Once the bird’s nesting period is over, burns are then planned. One of the strategies that Conley applies is a checkerboard pattern of burning to allow for standing wildlife cover. For quail and song bird management you don’t want to burn everything.   The next year, fields that were not burned the previous year will be evaluated for burning.

Dick Conley ignites the perimiter of a dense field of gamma grass.

As Conley explains, “Fields become too dense and wildlife habitat can’t thrive, populations decline.” When these dense fields are not controlled, food for the birds like beggar lice, ragweed, and lespedeza can’t be sustained. The general rule of thumb for production fields of warm season grasses utilized for hay and biofuels is one clump per one square foot. For wildlife habitat you want one clump of grass per six square feet, allowing the necessary room for habitat to move around while still being covered.
So what are the optimal weather conditions for burning? Conley says there are several major components of a controlled burn – wind velocity should not exceed 4-5 miles , humidity levels should be really no higher than 40-50%  and temperatures are close to 40 degrees, and lastly the amount of fuel that is being burned. You want lots of fuel on the ground so it will ‘burn hot’. The time of year for a control burn like this is generally from February 15th through the end of March/1st of April.
Once all of these conditions are met, how does Conley approach the actual burn? He places a fire line around the perimeter of the field, letting it burn towards the center. He makes sure that there are open spaces around the field so that if the fire moves towards an adjacent area, the site easily be handled utilizing tools and a water tank.
What can be another benefit to a control burn? It can make the removal of invasive exotics very easy! In this case, Conley was able to take out a hedgerow of privet quickly. Any invasive shrubs still left standing can be sprayed and removed easily. A short while after the burn, a soil test will be conducted and sent in to the University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office.  Whatever nutrients the report indicates is lacking within the soil can be added in. For perennial grasses, like switchgrass and gammagrass, the fields will come back post-burn and without any supplemental planting.
A note about the UT Biofuels Initiative…
The biofuels contract program for farmers has expired. The program benefitted farmers that grew switchgrass, so that it could ultimately be ground up and converted into ethanol. Folks at the Hartman farm are moving towards keeping most, if not all, of the grass fields for its wildlife cover instead of harvesting a portion of the hay for livestock.
According to Goddard, farmers are looking into the use of native grasses and examining the optimal time to plant and cut for hay, ensuring the maximum nutrition for the cows. Right now, UT is looking into funding research through competitive grants to grow these grasses. Planting native warm season grasses could ultimately help fill in the grazing gap for cool season grasses, like fescue and orchard grass, which are heavily utilized in the livestock business. Goddard mentions that, “in the summer farmers typically have to use hay or plant some annual warm season grasses such as sudan grass. It’s nice to have a perennial, like switchgrass, so they don’t have to plant every year.” In this way, Goddard sees the planting of switchgrass as having a major benefit while the demand for biofuels kicks back up. He adds, “the marketplace for biofuels will move forward by creating both the crop and the demand… and so until the biofuel market becomes viable/ commercialized, finding varied, useful ways to incorporate switchgrass makes sense.” For additional information about native warm season grasses, please visit The Center for Native Grassland Management.

Tour of Roane County Conservation Easement

Folks get the full tour experience while sitting atop 'Monster Truck'!

This past fall FLC took a few employees with Strata-G, an environmental and consulting company in Knoxville, on a tour to one of our many remarkable conservation easement properties. With 106 of these partnerships covering 21 counties deciding which one to tour can be difficult! We decided to highlight Hartman’s property in Roane County and what a tour it was.  Many thanks Dick Conley and the all- terrain vehicle, known as ‘Monster Truck’, for the transportation and the wind in our hair! (Periodically, FLC does provide tours like this one to groups or individuals, so please contact us with any interest at 865-681-8326 or info@foothillsland.org.)

Back in 2008 Mr. Gene Hartman, and his wife Becky, partnered with FLC on a conservation easement covering 920 acres of their farm in Roane County.  Mr. Hartman is an ongoing Foothills supporter and his company, Duo Fast of Knoxville, has been an annual sponsor of FLC’s Celebration for many years. Several times a year, Mr. Hartman offers up his property for various conservation fundraisers and for use by disadvantaged youth, providing them with camping, fishing and other hunting activities.

FLC Board Member, Dick Conley, is the Land Manager for Hartman’s farm and provided the tour.  He kicked things off with an aerial photo and brief history of the property. FLC’s Land Director, Meredith Clebsch, explained the data gathering and photo collecting that goes into the annual monitoring of these easements. Mr. Conley spent 39 years with TWRA as a wildlife habitat biologist, his specific areas of expertise is in restoring native warm season grasses and soil building legumes.  A major interest of Conley’s is also helping to develop and monitor quail habitat.

Prior to the property’s current use as a commercial hunting preserve, it once housed a cattle farm, dairy operation and pasture lands. Close to 700 of the acres are in open fields with 300 in woodlands. Since the early 90’s Mr. Conley as helped to create a wildlife and native grass oasis amid neighboring cow pastures. Here are just a few of the projects that he has worked on over the years and in recent months:

Dick leads the tour through the various native warm season grasses on Hartman's property.

Native warm season grasses were converted from fields of fescue, sericea lespedeza, and bermudagrass to grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem and indiangrass. Since 1999, 400 acres have been converted to warm season grasses.

Planting native grasses assist in providing habitat needed for wildlife . The root systems of these grasses aids in soil structure and water infiltration. Mr. Conley is always exploring what grass works best with the conditions on the property and he has seen an increase in wildlife species, like quail and rabbits, as a result of the plantings.

Controlled burns are conducted on half of the grass fields annually in a checkerboard type pattern. This ensures that there is always food and habitat for wildlife on the property.

Conley has removed hedgerows that contained privet and replaced them with wildlife loving shrubs such as American beautyberry, hazelnut and persimmon trees.

A few years ago 50 acres of the property were planted in switchgrass, primarily as part of UT’s biofuel switchgrass program. This contract has expired so plans are in the works to manage the current fields from ‘maximum yield’ to ‘wildlife benefit’, reducing the stand density to about 1 plant per 6 square feet.

There are 13 man-made ponds on the property that are spring fed. They are designed for the purpose of benefiting fish and wildlife. 2 waterfowl areas have been created with the planting of several grains such as corn, Japanese millet and grain sorghum.

Spring fed ponds abound on the Hartman property providing for many different wildlife species.

50 acres of Hartman’s property has switchgrass. Until recently, the acreage was part of UT’s biofuels initiative.

Quail habitat is an indicator of a large, diverse habitat that benefits many other species like song birds and butterflies. Quail require 4 different habitats within a 40 acre area – brooding/nesting, escape, feeding, and cover. Outside temperature humidity levels also need to be between 20-30% when the hen sits on a clutch of eggs or the heat kills the eggs. Predators such as possums, skunks and raccoon are also a constant threat to the vulnerable quail eggs.

Did you know Dick Conley is also a Consultant Wildlife Habitat Biologist for Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge? In the coming weeks, FLC will also post entries about current projects at Seven Islands by Dick Conley, the folks at TWRA and the Refuge’s Land Director, Nora Hassell. Stay tuned…

 

Clarence Coffee, 2nd from left, discusses the savanna flora with workshop attendees. Clarence, retired TWRA, was instrumental in promoting the need to restore these landscapes to support threatened wildlife and plant species.

Workshop participants investigate the effects of burning on Catoosa WMA.

On September 5-6 FLC’s Land Director, Meredith Clebsch, attended the Woodland and Savanna Management Workshop in Crossville, TN.  The program was put on by the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture and TWRA to support the restoration of landscapes, especially in the plateau region, to historical woodland/savanna communities that support grassland bird species. Grassland birds are among the most imperiled of all North American birds primarily due to loss of historical habitat.  It is estimated that less than 1% of this habitat remains.  Included in this group of birds are Northern bobwhite quail, a number of sparrow species, Prairie and Blue-winged warblers and yellow breasted chats.

These communities are known to have occurred across large acreages in the middle Tennessee and western Kentucky region priorto human habitation.  Many of thesecommunities have been vastly altered from their original state due to fire reduction practices and agricultural activities and may no longer be readily recognized on the landscape. However the structure and diversity of plants they support are critical to many declining grass and shrub-land species.
The workshop was developed to aid land managers in understanding the components of woodland and savanna communities, the value these vanishing landscapes provide, and how best to restore these critical habitats.  The information presented provided land managers and consultants with resources to better understand savanna and woodland community types and the knowledge to better manage these forgotten ecosystems.
In a nutshell, what has to happen is the reduction of the tree canopy to something less than 50% to allow enough light to the ground for a diverse mix of grasses and other herbaceous species as well and shrubs to flourish.  This means most of the sub canopy is removed.  Much of the discussion focused on the use of fire and what the most effective burning schedule is to establish and maintain these landscapes. We observed the results of various fire management regimes in a tour of Catoosa Wildlife Management Area which has been working to restore these landscapes since the mid-1980s.  Burning in the growing season, August and September, is now being recommended as most effective for reducing the woody cover.
Now that FLC has thousands of acres in easements on the plateau and more to come, we hope this information will be useful to those concerned about wildlife habitat management for this important community.
For more information about this topic visit the Central Hardwood Joint Venture.

BadPlantsAndWhatToDoAboutThem3 – POWER POINT

by Kristine Johnson, Supervisory Forester – GSMNP

Chinese privet - Shrub that can spread easily into native plant communities and displace native vegetationChinese privet

Invasive exotic plants are among the most serious threats to natural areas and biodiversity worldwide. Foothills Land Conservancy supporters and neighbors find additional cause for concern as exotic plant invasions reduce real estate values, facilitate erosion, alter fire regimes, obscure planned landscapes and change wildlife habitat. Late summer and early autumn provide opportunities to survey and control many species of exotic plants, since seed production can often be prevented and some species are more visible as foliage changes colors. Oriental bittersweet, for example, produces bright orange fruits and yellow leaves while some evergreens such as privet and Japanese honeysuckle show up in contrast to brighter fall colors. Because plants translocate photosynthetic products down to roots for storage in the fall, herbicides also travel more efficiently to root systems when applied late in the growing season either as a foliar application or by cutting and stump treating. Proper plant identification and careful surveys to assess control strategy are important first steps in managing exotic plant infestations.

Preventing exotic plants from becoming established is particularly challenging when neighboring lands supply a continuous seed source. While most invasive exotic plant species thrive in disturbed areas such as roadsides and stream corridors, some can also invade intact plant communities and shaded sites. The Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council provides information on native plant alternatives for landscaping and erosion control as well as a prioritized list of invasive plant species to avoid planting. Many weed seeds and viable plant fragments can be transported in straw, wood chip mulch, topsoil and fill, and gravel or sand from quarries. Sources of such materials should be investigated carefully and development sites monitored for new infestations. Coltsfoot, garlic mustard, microstegium and Johnson grass are good examples: fields consisting almost entirely of Johnson grass in seed are often harvested for hay, and fragments of coltsfoot a few inches long can become new, flowering plants growing out of gravel in three weeks.  Seeds can also travel in soil carried along by muddy boots and vehicle tires.

Educating neighbors and working cooperatively to manage infestations helps achieve success as well as building a sense of community and stewardship. Information on plant identification and exotic plant management can be found at websites for the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council (www.tneppc.org) and University of Tennessee Herbarium http://tenn.bio.utk.edu.