Restoration

The Challenge: Millions of acres of former grasslands have developed into woodlands and forests after decades of fire suppression. A much smaller percentage exists today as degraded pastures, old fields, or shrub thickets. Fortunately, many sites are restorable. Wooded sites can sometimes be restored by a combination of canopy thinning and fire. For example, what was once a closed forest at Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville, TN has since been restored to an incredible oak-shortleaf pine savanna. In other cases, restoration may require invasive species management, seeding of additional species, or restoration of the natural hydrology. The good news is that a lot of restorable acreage is in public ownership, within state parks, wildlife management areas, national forests and recreation areas, and national parks.  If so much potential exists then why aren’t we doing more to restore grasslands on these lands?

The reasons for the lack of active restoration on many public lands are numerous. In many cases there is simply a lack of knowledge that grasslands were part of the site’s history, highlighting the importance of education and sound consultation. In other cases, our natural affinity for forests prevents restoration from happening on a large scale. Although, in theory, we have the potential to “open up” thousands of acres on some individual parks, the public backlash would be swift and voices of opposition would be loud, even if irrefutable evidence of the former existence of grasslands was produced because let’s face it—we love our trees.  Even if official approvals could be gained and public support won, most state and federal budgets are tight and there simply isn’t enough funding to support the staff or to provide the equipment needed to tackle such massive projects and to sustain them for years or decades thereafter. However, for the sake of wildlife, these are the types of projects that are desperately needed.

SGI’s Role: SGI will work with state and federal agencies to identify former grassland areas that have good restoration potential. We will work with those public land units to identify their financial and equipment needs in order to pursue large-scale restoration projects. In addition, through outreach, we will work to educate the public and various environmental groups who might otherwise oppose such projects, to help them understand how vital such restoration efforts are. Through our grants program, we will offer competitive matching grants to partner with government agencies and non-profit conservation organizations to restore thousands of acres of former grasslands on our public lands.

Many of our precious remaining grasslands must be restored and then maintained with fire, mowing, grazing, or selective herbicide. Without maintenance they will disappear. In this photo, the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas uses prescribed burning to maintain May Prairie State Natural Area, Coffee Co., Tennessee.

Many of our precious remaining grasslands must be restored and then maintained with fire, mowing, grazing, or selective herbicide. Without maintenance they will disappear. In this photo, the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas uses prescribed burning to maintain May Prairie State Natural Area, Coffee Co., Tennessee.

In some areas, large expanses of close-canopied forest that we know were open savannas historically can be restored with a combination of selective canopy thinning and prescribed burning. For example, the broad expanses on top of the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee respond very well to thinning and burning and can be reverted to high quality shortleaf pine-post oak savanna. 

In some areas, large expanses of close-canopied forest that we know were open savannas historically can be restored with a combination of selective canopy thinning and prescribed burning. For example, the broad expanses on top of the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee respond very well to thinning and burning and can be reverted to high quality shortleaf pine-post oak savanna. 

At Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, Cumberland Co., Tennessee, thousands of acres of formerly closed-canopied forests have been restored to high-quality oak savanna. In recent years shortleaf pine has been regenerating and numerous rare plant and animal species have been documented.

At Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, Cumberland Co., Tennessee, thousands of acres of formerly closed-canopied forests have been restored to high-quality oak savanna. In recent years shortleaf pine has been regenerating and numerous rare plant and animal species have been documented.

This shortleaf pine-post oak savanna at Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness, Cumberland Co., Tennessee was a loblolly pine plantation not too many years ago. Prescribed burning applied every one to two years following harvesting of the pine has led to dramatic recovery of this imperiled ecosystem.

This shortleaf pine-post oak savanna at Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness, Cumberland Co., Tennessee was a loblolly pine plantation not too many years ago. Prescribed burning applied every one to two years following harvesting of the pine has led to dramatic recovery of this imperiled ecosystem.