Coming June 4th, Terrapin Creek will be invaded by Pirate Ducks! The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust and our Conservation Education Institute will host a Third Annual Duck Derby and Wild Child education event along Terrapin Creek. No real ducks are used in this race, only the rubber kind.

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust’s new Conservation Education InIMG_4521stitute (CEI) will be presenting diverse learning stations for kids from pre-k to grey. There will be a hay ride, bug hunt, a bird migration game, a 4-H River Kids safety course, and live animals, including reptiles and birds of prey.

Children will complete a Passport to Conservation as they engage in fun activities. Toy prizes will be awarded for passport participation. Partners include Alabama State Parks, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, and the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

The event begins at 10am at the Terrapin Outdoor Center and Redneck Yacht Club on County Road 175 just above Piedmont, AL off of Alabama Highway 9. Live music begins at noon, plus we will serve FREE hot dogs until they are gone!

For more information call 256-447-1006 or adopt your duck HERE
and get your Pirates of the Terrapin t-shirt.  You can also check out our website at www.galandtrust.org for the latest information.

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The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is proud to be a project participant in a national conservation program recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $720 million in nationwide funding for another round of conservation projects in 50 states. This funding is a continuation of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), first funded by the federal government in the 2014 Farm Bill. Under this program, the USDA teams with several conservation groups, including the Land Trust, to preserve open space and natural habitats.

In last year’s funding, $1.25 million dollars were specifically allocated toward a 2,300 acre protection project near Fort Stewart, which the Land Trust is in the process of finalizing. That project not only furthers the Department of Agriculture’s RCPP program, it also contributes to a low-density, compatible use buffer surrounding Fort Stewart.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

“It’s important for us to maintain the installation where we can train the way we fight, but not be constrained with a worry of smoke or noise or dust going off the installation [and impacting our neighbors],” said Tim Beaty, Chief of Fish & Wildlife at Ft. Stewart.

“Restoration is also part of this project,” said Executive Director Katherine Eddins, “ restoring and maintaining the long leaf pine that once dominated the landscape has helped bring back the red-cockaded woodpecker, the indigo snake and the gopher tortoise. We are so excited to continue to work with Fort Stewart and surrounding land owners on this important conservation mission. “

“We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities and across the nation.”

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust has been working with Fort Stewart for many years and is directly responsible for protecting over 30,000 acres of land surrounding the installation.

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Every Friday we will  feature one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.  

Six generations of Stanleys have worked land in Georgia’s Toombs and Tattnall counties, and another generation is learning to love the land and how to work it.

The Stanley family has been living and farming in the Toombs County area longer than there has been a Toombs County and almost as long as Tattnall has been a county. The history of the Stanleys is their work on the land, including the 1,635-acre tract in Tattnall the family preserved in 2009 with a conservation easement held by the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust.

SIx generations: L-R, Bryan, Terry, Vince and R.T. Stanley

Six generations: L-R, Bryan, Terry, Vince and R.T. Stanley

“I started out sharecropping with my great uncle,” R.T. Stanley says. It was sharecropping that helped strengthen his determination to own land. “As I was growing up, I always wanted to buy land and own it. It’s in my blood. It’s always better to own it; you never know what will happen when you lease it.” The land in the conservation easement features around two miles of frontage on the Ohoopee River.

“The downturn in the economy was a two-edged sword. It hurt some people, but it helped make this tract available,” says R.T., whose sons Vince, Brian and Tracy joined him in donating the easement. “Buying this tract is the biggest transaction in my life; it’s a big step—a big chance to take.”

All the Stanleys agree that it was a chance worth taking. “It’s just so big and diverse,” Vince says. “There are a couple of hundred acres of longleaf and wiregrass, and we planted another 150 acres of longleaf. There’s a variety of hunting and fishing, and the land is good.”

Good indeed: 43 percent of the property is rated either prime soil or soil of statewide importance. Almost 300 acres are highly desirable for production of sweet Vidalia onions. In addition to growing the onions, the Stanleys now operate Vidalia Valley Farms, which produces Vidalia Valley Onion® products, including salad dressings, barbecue sauce and even a Vidalia Onion Slow Burn Peach Hot Sauce®.

When asked who created the recipes for the sauces, Vince reports that he liked combining his entrepreneurial and culinary abilities. Who created the recipes? Vince says simply, “I did.” His inspiration? “Well, I do like to make money. And they taste real good, too.”

Bottomland along the Ohoopee

Bottomland along the Ohoopee

The Stanleys’ conservation easement with the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust will ensure that the family will always have a place, not only to continue working the land, but also to gather the family in some of their favorite pursuits. Much of the property is used for hunting and abounds with deer, dove, and turkey. It also features man-made ponds that support healthy populations of bass and white perch.

Vince says, “Working with the Land Trust, we feel like we covered everything. We kept changing the easement around a good bit and got it where it was a win-win. We can continue using the land, mixing in food plots, timber and crops on a lot of the property, but there are over 140 acres of 100-year old bottomlands that will never be touched.”

And even more important to the sixth generation of Stanleys is what the conservation easement means to the seventh generation. “Now, we know our kids will grow up on this land. They love to go out on it with us.”

Vidalia Valley Farms

Stanley Farms

 

 

 

 

Feature Friday, from a story written by Frank McIntosh.

A friend of Dan Jeter’s in the forestry and pine straw business had been after him for a while to buy a farm. He had shown Dan a few “cutovers” that didn’t appeal, but then called and told Dan he “had to see this one.”

The tract was one of the seven parcels—a 147-tract in Colquitt County, GA. that particularly appealed to Dan. It was not too big for him to manage and had lots of bottomlands that he knew would be home to lots of “woodies” and other wildlife to hunt and just to enjoy.

Dan’s brother had put conservation easements in place in North Carolina and Southwest Georgia, so Dan was drawn to the idea of the benefits provided to donors as well as the idea of conservation.

Dan Jeter near site of an old bridge on easement property

Dan Jeter near site of an old bridge on easement property

“At some point you morph from financial to aesthetic preservation. When I signed the

conservation easement, I felt such a sense of happiness and accomplishment.” This emotion is seconded by Dan’s wife, Felicity, who expresses her feelings about land protection simply, “Why do we have to develop everything?” While the recent slump has slowed things a bit, Jeter notes that at one point not long ago there were seventeen different development projects before the local planning board.

Jeter also reports that “one of the pluses” in dealing with a land trust on a conservation easement is the care that is taken to ensure that valuable productive lands remain in production, but that the use of the land ensures that the special natural areas are not damaged by those uses and that extra protection is provided.

The Jeter conservation easement allows silvicultural and agricultural use on its uplands. Part of that land, 32 acres, is now in a longleaf restoration project that features locally grown longleaf saplings. The expansive bottomlands comprising much of the property are designated a Special Natural Area  and  will be preserved in their current condition except for incidental removal of invasive species and diseased vegetation.

The sloughs running down to Bridge Creek (so named for the old tramway trestle that crossed the creek, parts of which remain in the creek today) abound with mature hickories and white oaks. Jeter noted that the creek is good fishing, too—he allows neighbors onto the property to fish for red breast and bream.

Jeter, who mentors school children through the local Communities in Schools program, feels strongly about the role of education in shaping lives. He hopes that the property will provide an opportunity for his children and grandchildren to connect with “the way the land was for us and our forebears.”

In case you missed it, the Georgia Land Trust and Fort Stewart were recently highlighted by the New York Times for their cooperative conservation work on and around Fort Stewart through the Army’s Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program. ACUB seeks to limit the complications arising from residential development encroaching on the base (for obvious reasons, military training exercises and community developments don’t mix) and to improve on the Army’s record of conservation. The program has been key in protecting a number of threatened species, such as the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Gopher Tortoise and the habitats they call home, such as the Longleaf Pine – Wiregrass Savannas which used to be common across the South. If you want to read the New York Times article, you can find it here. However, gaining a full understanding of why the Georgia Land Trust and Fort Stewart find protecting land in this area important, and those habitats and species unique to it requires  some understanding of the region’s ecological history.

Image credit: Appalachian Woods

Historically speaking, Longleaf Pine Savannas were the dominant ecosystem of the Coastal Plain Southeast. At the time of Hernando DeSoto’s first European incursion into Southeastern interiors, Longleaf Pine Savannas stretched from Virginia to Eastern Texas, an ecosystem entirely unbroken over 2,000 miles except by the wide expanses of the Mississippi River. The naturalist William Bartram, roaming the Southeast in the 1780s and 90s, described the region as “a forest of the great long-leaved pine, the earth covered with grass, intersped with an infinite variety of herbaceous plants and embellished with extensive savannas, always green, sparkling with ponds of water.” These glowing commentaries might be surprising to the modern observer ranging over these same areas, who would see only densely planted stands of loblolly, slash and shortleaf pine, overgrown with juvenile hardwoods and  thickets of woody shrubs, the worst being the dreaded chinese privet, which renders navigation in some pine stands impossible. Considering this, it’s hard to imagine the open parks described.

The "catfaces" notched to get resin for the turpentine industry.

Yet they were there, and it took several hundred years to slowly force the longleaves to retreat into their current, vestigial pockets. First came the Tarheels, who cut and burned swathes of forest to produce tar for the naval stores industry. Then came the turpentiners, the second use for pines for naval stores, whose notching “catfaces” into the sides of the pines often killed the tree and exposed them to fire, against which adult trees were generally immune. Finally, the pulpwood industry pushed the longleaf back into 5% of their original range by preferentially selecting the faster growing loblolly, shortleaf and slash pine for use in their plantations. The nascent economies of the Southeast, often perceived as having grown up on cotton and tobacco, were as much built around the bounty of the Longleaves. Finally, as timber companies began divesting themselves of some of their vast landholdings, sprawling neighborhoods consumed large areas of prime lands. This final assault on the forests of southeast Georgia is one of the key motivations for the ACUB program.

Very few mature Longleaf Pine forests exist today, and some of those forests are found on Fort Stewart and surrounding lands. The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and Gopher Tortoise are highly dependent on Longleaf Pine Savannahs. The woodpecker is thought to require anywhere from 60 – 300 acres of pine savannah for foraging, and will only live in the cavities of mature, living pines. The forest floor has to be regularly burned as well. Destruction of mature forests and poor fire management has reduced the number of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers from more than 1 million birds to somewhere in the vicinity of 12,000 today. Similarly, Gopher Tortoises require the loose, sandy soils of the savanna to dig their burrows, and can’t browse in the woody undergrowth of a poorly fire-managed forest, but require the grasses and leafy plants of an open environment.  Gopher Tortoises too have been reduced across their range. Protecting both species assists more than their species alone, as reduction of their numbers has a multiplying effect across their ecosystem. Gopher Tortoises, for example, have been known to make burrows 40 feet long and nearly 9 feet deep, which is thought to help support 400 further species of animals and plants that rely on their long and deep burrows as both a home and shelter from fires. Some of these species can survive without the Gopher Tortoise, some can’t.

Image credit: Michael Rupert

The protection and management of the Longleaf Pine forests and the species that rely on it are not only important from an environmental standpoint, but also from one of our cultural history. Without their preservation into the future, it might be literally impossible to look across the land and understand the South as it used to be.

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If you would like to participate in the protection of your longleaf forest, other ecologically important lands, or lands around the Fort Stewart area in general, contact the Georgia Land Trust at: (912) 231-0507 or read more about us at galandtrust.org.

Sources:

http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/ja/ja_rudolph013.pdf

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_0013_red_cockaded_woodpecker_mgmt.pdf

http://georgiawildlife.dnr.state.ga.us/content/displaypressrelease.asp?ArticleID=1318

Though not specifically used for this article, it borrows heavily from the experience of reading Lawrence Early’s Looking for Longleaf; The Fall and Rise of an American Forest, found here.