Jan 7: Chef Firestorm and the Pineland Caper

As the sun rose over Tall Timbers Research Station, 13 cold, groggy gremlins gathered outside Jim Walter Lodge. Morgan Varner, research director, and Kevin Robertson, fire ecologist and historian, took us to the station's prescribed burn "Stoddard plots," which each are assigned a different burn frequency (from 1 to 4 years). The native pine savannas of the southeastern United States are fire-dependent and these plots allow researchers to assess the impact of burn frequency on woodland health. Morgan and Kevin pointed out the differences in vegetation among the plots as they explained the historical use of these ecosystems. The Red Hills region, which spans the Florida-Georgia line (good band by the way), historically had much of their pinelands converted into bobwhite-hunting estates for northerners' getaways. Today those properties provide ample opportunities for conserving native species. After visiting several of the station's study sites and discussing the political tendencies of McCook, Nebraska, we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, we met two alums: Todd Engstrom, class of 1976 and ornithologist/ecologist, and Wilson "Bake" Baker, class of 1963 and biologist/master naturalist. We followed them to Greenwood Plantation, one of the last remaining untouched old-growth pine savannas. This woodland is managed by Paul Massey, whose appearance and forestry philosophy are both reminiscent of the Lorax. Paul practices an uncommon style of management that emphasizes ecological health of the property over short-term economic gain. The result is a beautiful landscape capable of fostering greater diversity than any other southern ecosystem, essentially a "forest superimposed over a grassland," as Todd put it. This ecosystem is an important habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers (an endangered species) and if managed right can also be used to selectively harvest timber, or as Paul put it, "if you use your noggin you can have your cake and eat it too." Todd and Wilson took us for a walk through the forest in search of the elusive woodpeckers, magnificent trees, and interesting plants to identify. Sadly, we did not find any woodpeckers but we did see some very spectacular pitcher plants, and brown headed nuthatches, (another bird specific to this habitat) and we learned some useful tips to differentiate the local pine species. After the walk, we said thank you and farewell to Todd and Wilson and headed back to the lodge for dinner where Reece (Chef Firestorm) grilled us some CHAR-broiled ham burgers.

Posted on January 08, 2022 02:41 AM by crsmithant crsmithant


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