Our land management program focuses on managing and restoring habitats on the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve, state land and private lands within the Altamaha River Corridor. The Land Management Team is based at the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve in Telfair County, Georgia, and works with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The Longleaf Alliance (LLA) and other private landowners across the Altamaha River Corridor implementing land management practices that benefit Longleaf Pine forests, Eastern Indigo Snakes and Gopher Tortoises.
OUR PRESCRIBED FIRE TEAM
A large component of the Land Management and Restoration Program is our Prescribed Fire Team which works with a variety of partners to restore and manage critical plant communities within the Longleaf Pine ecosystem. Fire is as essential as soil, water and air to maintain the savannah-like character of a naturally-functioning and biologically-diverse Longleaf Pine ecosystem.
Today prescribed fire, or controlled burning, is applied to mimic this natural process and to mitigate the risks associated with wildfire on the present landscape. We partner with GADNR, TNC and LLA to share equipment and personnel to achieve fire management goals. We intend to burn approximately a third of the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve’s burnable acreage each year to maintain a three-year fire-return interval.
Fire is key to restoring the remaining fragments of the Longleaf Pine ecosystem. The southern United States experiences more lightning than any other part of North America. Historically in late spring and early summer, particularly in La Niña years, lightning-ignited wildfire burned large areas of the region on a frequent basis (one to 10-year intervals). This seasonal phenomenon occurred because sporadic, convective thunderstorms coincided with dry vegetation, and the resultant fires were driven by winds associated with continental fronts. These fires spread until sufficient rain had fallen or until they encountered natural barriers. Consequently, most of the native flora and fauna, including many wetland species, depend on frequent and seasonal fire to stimulate viable fruiting and to provide habitat suitable for their survival.
USING BEST RESTORATION PRACTICES
Restoration of Longleaf Pine communities that have been converted to other land uses requires intensive management to make them suitable habitat for Eastern Indigo Snakes. The practice of ecological restoration involves both forestry and farming techniques to reestablish the components and function of the native ecosystems.
Areas converted for industrial pine production that still have fairly intact groundcover and little soil disturbance may only require thinning of the trees and reintroducing fire. Eventually, new Longleaf Pines would be planted over time. On the other hand, sites developed for agriculture would require the elimination of non-native plant species using herbicides. Once the invasive species are removed from the site, we will then begin to collect native groundcover seed and plant it to restore the degraded plant community.
Seed collection usually begins around late September to October until the first of December. We collect seed by using several methods. A woodward flail-vac attached to an ATV and a skid steer is used to strip the seed from the inflorescence once the seed is ready for harvest. Another form of collection is by hand. Volunteers are used frequently to help collect seed by hand to increase production, which will be used on the preserve or on partner lands. Once the seed is collected, it will then either be broadcasted by hand or drilled using a native seed planter dependent upon which method the site will allow. Sites restored from agricultural uses require continuous monitoring and treatment for re-infestation by non-native plants such as Bermuda and Bahiagrass.
Once the desired groundcover plant species have become established, a judicious application of fire is needed to perpetuate those plants during the natural fire season. Appropriate shrub species and Longleaf Pine are planted, and sites in relatively good condition require vigilant monitoring for infestations of non-native invasive plant species. Feral hog control is also important to habitat management and restoration and to limit depredation on Eastern Indigo Snakes and young Gopher Tortoises.
Most Longleaf Pine dominated natural communities within the range of the Eastern Indigo Snake have been lost or degraded by other land uses or fire exclusion. Restoring and maintaining Longleaf Pine dominated ecosystems preferred by the Eastern Indigo and the Gopher Tortoise are the focus of our land management program.