I wrote a few weeks back about my kayak adventure with my daughters to Sister Island (The Naturalist’s Corner Mar. 16, 2011) on a recent trip to Isle of Palms. Well, the kayak trip was only the beginning of an even deeper, more visceral immersion into the primordial ooze that is tidal marsh.
Low tide followed us back to the dock after our kayak adventure. The marsh grass that had swayed gently, pushed then pulled by the incoming, then ebbing tide, now jutted out of a grey-black ooze alive with fiddler crabs dancing sideways across the surface and disappearing into muddy bubbles that covered the entrance of their tunnels. If there are two things my girls can’t resist – well actually, there are a myriad of things my girls can’t resist, but two of them are skittering critters and mud.
The retreating tide had gently lowered the floating landing that holds the kayak till it was resting on the glistening gunk. It was one short jump for kids but one giant exuberant jump for kidkind. The girls plopped, or maybe pluffed, knee deep into the muck amidst giggles and whoops of excitement.
We’re not talking about some bare earth that got rained on and is now squishy – we’re talking boot sucking, boat sticking, livestock eating mud.
This mud is the mother of all mud. And it rolls into the marsh on the back of every river, bayou, creek, slough and ditch seeking to become one with the ocean. The Lowcountry locals have a name for this fecund jello – it is called “pluff mud.” And it is referenced throughout the Lowcountry from Pluff Mud Alley in Mount Pleasant to Pluff Mud Field Airport in Charleston to Pluff Mud Art Gallery in Bluffton – there is even an online Pluff Mud magazine, and dinner in Charleston wouldn’t be complete without pluff mud pie for dessert.
The distinct pluff mud aroma emitted as anaerobic bacteria, at home in the dense muck, devour organic matter, releasing hydrogen sulfide mixes with the salt air and the bouquet tugs at the soul and psyche of Lowcountry natives and “marsh rats” everywhere. The etymology of pluff mud is not nearly so obvious as its attributes.
Some Internet sleuthing revealed that the term was also spelled plough mud, though pronounced “pluff” not “plow.” Pluff was the colonial English pronunciation of the word plough at the time the country was settled. Lowcountry natives apparently adopted the phonetic spelling of the English plough “pluff.” But why plough mud? I could not find a simple explanation – perhaps some reader might know. I imagine it has to do with the vast agricultural resources that the Lowcountry was noted for – the endless acres of cotton and rice produced from the fertile black earth.
I did find one colorful colouqualization for the term offered by the Myrtle Beach Convention Center’s webmaster: “Pluff’ is actually the sound you hear when your truck keys fall out of your shorts pocket, while you’re climbing over the side to drag the boat out of the aforementioned pluff mud.”
I tend to think of it as the sound made by little hands trying frantically to scoop skittering fiddler crabs from the shiny surface before they disappear.
The planets must have been in alignment when Buddy Young, director of residential services at Lake Junaluska, and Candace Stimson, Low Impact Development (LID) student at Haywood Community College, became acquainted. Stimson and her LID 112 class began working with Lake Junaluska on streambank enhancement, stormwater runoff and erosion problems last fall.
Stimson was looking for a capstone project for her associate’s degree in LID and Young and Lake Junaluska were looking for assistance in some steam mitigation to help them fulfill their requirements pertaining to a North Carolina Water Resources grant they were awarded last September to help them deal with sediment removal at the lake. According to Young, “Candace was the answer to our prayers.”
To fulfill her capstone project and become one of HCC’s first LID graduates, Stimson designed, coordinated and implemented the enhancement of Suzy’s Branch on the grounds of Lake Junaluska at the new wetlands site behind Jones cafeteria. According to Young, Suzy’s Branch had been piped, underground, through culverts to the lake. Stimson’s project removed 75 to 100 feet of culvert and created a course for the stream to flow through the wetlands.
Stimson worked with Dave McKay of RCF Construction to complete the needed excavation and grading. She worked with Southeastern Native Plants of Candler to come up with a native plant list for the wetlands, including wetland plants like fothergilla, arrowhead, blueflag irises, dogwood, muskingum sedge and others. Stimson said she was glad to find the muskingum sedge because it is endangered in Tennessee and old range maps list it as native in east Tennessee. She said plants don’t really know where east Tennessee stops and Western North Carolina starts.
Stimson said this new design and new wetlands has many environmental benefits.
“The wetlands will act like a filter to help keep sediment and other pollutants from reaching the lake. It will also provide new habitat and increase the diversity of wildlife,” she said.
Tamara Graham, natural resources LID instructor at HCC, said that Stimson’s project at Lake Junaluska embodies both the principles of HCC’s LID curriculum and the principles of HCC’s capstone program. Graham said HCC’s LID curriculum grew out of the Mountain Landscape Initiative and focuses on site-specific practices that can have far-reaching effects. In other words if everyone controlled and/or mitigated erosion and pollution problems on their own property the cumulative effect would be much less. And student’s capstone projects are designed to be real on-the-ground examples of how low impact development benefits the community and the larger landscape in general. She said that Stimson’s project met both of those criteria.
Stimson, who had worked in the nursing field for ten years, said that the LID curriculum at HCC was a godsend. “I’ve always cared about the environment. I love plants and working outdoors. The LID program at HCC brought it all together, I can follow my heart and work to heal the earth at the same time,” Stimson said.
A LID classmate of Simpson’s, Vicki Eastland, focused her capstone project on rescuing native plants from the construction site of a new creative arts building on the HCC campus and introducing them into appropriate habitat on campus.
It does this old hippie heart good to see people who care enough to change their backyard. When all our backyards are perfect, the world will be perfect.
Through some kind of mix up in the mail, I received a nomination from Wild South’s Roosevelt-Ashe Society for “Outstanding Journalist in Conservation” and an invitation to their 2011 “Green Tie Gala” held last Friday night (March 25) in Asheville.
I knew there was a mix up when I looked at the nominees in my category – Susan Andrew (Mountain Xpress), Pat Byington (Bama Environmental News), Bill Finch (The Nature Conservancy), Silas House and Jason Howard (authors of the book, Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal) and John Wathen (Friends of Hurricane Creek in Alabama, who uses his time and resources to document the effects of BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico).
“These are the kinds of people I write about,” I thought. But hey, the invitation promised free, local food and select beer and wine. Besides, I actually own a green tie – one with birds on it, believe it or not.
There was one awkward moment at the ceremony, when I took my hand out of my pocket to congratulate John Wathen, the outstanding journalist award winner, and my four-page impromptu acceptance speech fell on the floor. I quickly put my foot on it and casually commented, “Oh, that’s nothing – a little piece I’m working on for National Geographic Adventure about circumnavigating the globe in my sea kayak, the Mad Bella.”
OK, OK, in the “truth is stranger than fiction” department, I was quite surprised and humbled to find that my colleagues at The Smoky Mountain News had nominated me for the Roosevelt-Ashe journalism award. I knew the bottle of Pyrat rum (office Christmas gift) I dropped off would, one day, pay dividends.
I wasn’t kidding about what I thought my chances of winning were based on the list of nominees. I am a writer/columnist, not an activist, and the Roosevelt-Ashe nominees are, indeed, the people whose stories I tell. Still, it was an honor to be nominated and a pleasure to attend.
Wild South is a regional nonprofit that works to protect the wild things and wild places across the southern landscape. According to Wild South’s website the Roosevelt-Ashe Society is “a select group of individuals and businesses committed to sustaining the protection of the Southeast’s wild places. They uphold the legacies of President Theodore Roosevelt and Mr. W.W. Ashe by making personally significant contributions to support Wild South programs.”
The gala was held at Handmade in America’s Design Lab Space on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville and there was an ample supply of promised local food and select adult beverages. There were more than a dozen sponsors for the event, regrettably too many to mention in this short column space but refreshments were wonderful and service was excellent.
Wild South started the award ceremony with two in-house recognitions – Susan Stone of Stone Digital Media and volunteer and Mountain Wildlife Days organizer John Edwards. The rest of the awards, selected by an independent awards committee, were: Alex Varner (Higher Ground Roasters) – Outstanding Business; Jay Leutze (Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy) – Outstanding Volunteer-Advocate; Philip Blumenthal – Outstanding Philanthropist; John Wathen (Friends of Hurricane Creek) – Outstanding Journalist; Hilary Hargrove (Riverdale High School, Tenn.) – Outstanding Educator; Cole Rasenberger (Davidson Elementary) – Outstanding Youth; and Brad Wyche (Upstate Forever) – Outstanding Conservationist.
It was a real treat to be there and see old friends like Kevin Fitzpatrick, whom I knew from Highlands. Kevin is an outstanding photographer and videographer now living in Asheville, where he owns All Species Photography and Sound. Dr. Pete Bates, natural resource professor at WCU and a deserving nominee for outstanding educator, was also there. And it was great to meet new friends like Wild South’s Alabama Program Director, Mark Kolinski.
People out there in the environmental/conservation trenches (including agency personnel like North Carolina Natural Resources Commission, U.S Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife) spend most of their working time being pigeonholed, dissed and/or vilified. Events like the Green Tie Gala, where they can let their hair and shields down and simply enjoy the company of other like-minded individuals, provide much needed R&R for these dedicated souls. A place where they can re-energize and prepare to get back out there and make more of the kinds of stories I write.
I thank my colleagues at Smoky Mountain News for the nomination and I thank Wild South and the Roosevelt-Ashe Society for the wonderful event and their recognition of their foot soldiers.
The U.S. Forest Service will hold a public meeting at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville at 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 4 to explain its brand new proposed draft Planning Rule.
This is not a meeting for public comment. According to the Forest Service, “The forum will not be a platform to accept public comment, rather an opportunity for interested stakeholders to ask questions to better inform the formal comments they submit during the public comment period, which closes May 16, 2011.”
What started going around in 2000 is now coming around again in 2011. I don’t know how many of you, like I, participated in the public meeting back then at UNCA where the Forest Service was asking for comments and/or suggestions regarding their proposed changes to the 1982 Forest Management Plan. It was an all-day affair. There were comments from many people and groups regarding how they thought our national forests should be managed. There were “breakouts” where the crowd would be broken up into groups and asked to brainstorm. I think at the end of the day a lot of people were feeling good about their efforts, feeling like they had been heard.
Turned out the Forest Service didn’t like the 2000 rule and decided they would, more or less in-house, develop a new Forest Service Planning Rule.
In 2005 the Forest Service published the shiny new 2005 Planning Rule in the Federal Register, then in 2008 issued the 2008 Planning Rule and environmental impact statement. Conservation and environmental organizations took exception at not being consulted and sued. In 2009 a district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs stating that the 2008 rule was in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. So here we are in 2011 managing our national forests under the 1982 rule – everything old is new again.
Now there may be some out there who think the 1982 rule is cool and we should move on to other things. But I think most – no matter where you fall on issues like timbering, mining, wildlife conservation etc. – would agree that we face a whole new slate of environmental issues and concerns like hemlock woolly adelgid, increased pressure on public water supplies, dwindling wildlife (game and non-game) populations, the possibility of climate change, increased competing interests, etc. that all cry out for more responsive and more effective management of our publicly-owned national forests.
So regardless if you’re a bird watcher, bear hunter, fisherman, photographer, hiker, biker, horse rider, etc., you should familiarize yourself with the new proposed rule and comment. Of course, if your comment is “all the forests should be bulldozed for more golf courses,” or “all national forest should be padlocked and no humans allowed,” I’m sure they will be filed accordingly. However, if you are truly concerned about the state of our national forests and what they will look like 100 years from now and you are honest and sincere in your comments and (could be a critical “and”) the Forest Service listens with an open mind maybe, just maybe, we could end up with a Planning Rule that bear hunters, bird watchers, old growth advocates and loggers could all live with.
I have to admit, I haven’t read the proposed rule but I’ve seen talking points and seen some movements, like stewardship contracting, that I find promising. But I’ve also seen reports from groups like Defenders of Wildlife and the Pew Environment Group that find the rule lacking in concrete environmental protection language. Like I said, the devil is in the details – or maybe the lack thereof.
If you can’t make the Asheville meeting on April 4, you can find the full text of the proposed rule at www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule or you can call 404.347.4984 for more information. Public comment is open till May 16.
On a recent trip to Isle of Palms, South Carolina, we had access to a sea kayak and decided to take advantage. There’s a pretty dramatic tide at Isle of Palms with currents to match so you have to plan your trip accordingly. We weren’t heading anywhere in particular so we just waited for high tide and spent a couple of hours exploring the nearby marsh.
There was a small island in the marsh between where we were staying and the Intracoastal Waterway – it looked to be about .2 of a mile away. I pulled a coastal map up online and saw that the channel from the end of our pier passed right by the island. So the girls (Izzy, age 9 and Maddie, age 5) and I decided we would go island exploring.
We launched during slack tide after the high tide had come in. It was a nice, easy paddle to the island and we found a good spot to beach our kayak. We strode ashore the island, which was maybe 150 yards long and 15 yards across at the widest point.
It seems “possession” must be hard-wired in the human psyche. We hadn’t been on the island five minutes when the first order of business became naming “our” island. After about five minutes of heated sibling debate, we declared the island Sister Island. But as long as we were naming things, it became apparent that the sea-worthy vessel that brought us to Sister Island also required a name. After another five-minute debate between Isabella and Madelyn, our vessel was christened Mad Bella. Now we were set to explore.
Believe it or not, there was a lot to explore on that 150-yard spit of terra firma and the only thing shorter than attention spans was the distance to the next discovery. I think that palmetto tree may have finally been acknowledged and substituted for palm tree. However, I’m pretty sure that “Krumholz effect” blew in one ear and out the other faster than the prevailing wind that shaped all the woody vegetation on Sister Island.
Izzy did discover deer tracks but I’m not sure she believed her dad when he told her the dog poop with the bits of shell in it was actually from otters. There were small depressions – maybe 2 1/2 feet in diameter – at both ends of the island that were apparently otter “haul-out” sites and/or bedding sites. You could see faint tracks. They didn’t appear really fresh but that could have been because of the compacted soil above high tide. There were a few empty crab shells scattered around – evidence of an otter picnic – that made great “treasures.”
Of course there was also evidence of pirate activity. But the girls couldn’t come up with an explanation for how Blackbeard’s crew came by Bud Light in a can.
There were enough broken off “tree statues” for climbing and enough treasures to be found that our loop around Sister Island took up the larger part of an hour.
By the time we got back to Mad Bella and launched her for our voyage home the tide was ebbing. Fortunately, it was just beginning to ebb and Izzy was a much stronger paddler than I expected. We cruised back home easily against the tide. Mad Bella was overflowing from all the loot from Sister Island and Maddy, who was a little reluctant at the beginning of the trip looked back and said, “Dad, I’m glad I came kayaking.”
Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tried to put the last nail in the coffin of the eastern cougar by declaring it extinct. The cougar (catamount, panther, puma, painter, mountain lion) will surely not go quietly. This legendary gris-gris of boreal forests, eastern mountains and southeastern swamps will continue to haunt wild places on the ground and wild places in the heart for decades to come.
There also are some scientific taxonomy issues that need to be addressed regarding the eastern cougar. Fish and Wildlife adheres to taxonomy established in 1946 by S.P. Young and E.A. Goldman that lists at least 15 subspecies of cougar in North America. One of those was Felis concolor couguar – the eastern cougar. Since then, a change in the genus name from Felis to Puma has been widely accepted and the eastern cougar has been referred to as Puma concolor couguar. However, a 2000 study by M. Culver et al., which studied the DNA of 186 individuals from the 15 previously named sub-species, concluded that the entire North American population of cougars was/is one subspecies that they called Puma concolor couguar.
This lack of scientific consensus surely opens a large can of worms and wiggly intrigue. The Fish and Wildlife considers the Florida panther a distinct subspecies, Puma concolor coryi, and it was listed as endangered in 1967. Six years later the eastern subspecies (according to Fish and Wildlife), Puma c. couguar was also listed as federally endangered. A lot of money and resources have been expended in Florida to help rescue the Florida panther from extinction. However, if the eastern cougar is declared extinct there can be no “Recovery Plan” and there can be no “Critical Habitat” designation – the two primary avenues Fish and Wildlife uses to try and reestablish endangered species.
I must admit that I don’t know if there are different established policies and/or guidelines for reestablishing animal populations to their former range depending on whether they are listed as endangered, extinct or extirpated. I know that the eastern subspecies of elk was declared extinct in the late 1800s and that different subspecies have been used to reintroduce the elk in the East. And western subspecies of bald eagles and peregrine falcons have been used to reestablish populations of both species in the East.
It has become apparent to most biologists that there is no self-sustaining population of cougar in the East other than 150 or so animals in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp in Florida. The last documented cougars in North Carolina were reportedly killed in 1886, one near Highlands and one in Craven County. The last reported cougar from the Smokies was dispatched in 1920.
The Fish and Wildlife recognizes that cougars have occasionally been seen in the East but according to Martin Miller, northeast region chief of endangered species, “…we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.”
Reestablishing an apex predator like the cougar is, sadly, not as easy as reestablishing cool birds or potential game animals. Despite the documented ecological and environmental benefits of reintroducing wolves (another apex predator) in Yellowstone National Park, there is a rousing clamor out West to de-list the wolf and open season on them once again. It seems that when it comes to apex predators, the general public has a love-hate relationship – that is, they love to hate ‘em.
Different people have different ideas of camping. Some people like to carry their camp on their back as they hike for untold miles, eating freeze-dried beans and drinking purified water from the streams. Some people’s idea of the camp is where you go to mix cocktails and sit in the hot tub and watch the big game on the 60-inch plasma TV.
Both of these “opposite ends of the spectrum” have their associated perks and pitfalls and both can be wonderful experiences. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy both aspects but I can tell you I’ve spent more time in a tent than a hot tub. The average camping experience usually falls somewhere in between, like a small tent at a backcountry campsite, a pop-up or RV at a front-country site, the hunting camp or the fishing camp, etc.
On my recent trip to Louisiana to count birds at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, near Monroe, I had the pleasure of camping for two nights along the Ouachita River with an old Mer Rouge chum, Gil White. Gil is the proud owner of a small one-room camp literally feet away from the edge of the high bank of the river, near Moon Lake, just minutes from Monroe.
The camp is, in fact, a little too close to the riverbank, and one of Gil’s projects for the summer will be moving it back a 100 feet or so. It seems the unusually high water last year caused the river to undercut a huge water oak standing just in front of the camp. If the tree goes, the camp, where it is now, would follow, and I don’t think it would make a good houseboat in its present form.
The camp is definitely one of those “tweeners” from above. No electricity and no running water, but dry with a wood stove and small covered deck for river watching. I’m guessing the total inside area is about 12 by 12 or so, maybe a tad larger and the deck extends out another 6 to 8 feet. Plenty of potable water in different sized containers, propane cookstoves, battery and gas lanterns, ice chests and a port-o-potty just down the trail insures all basic needs are met. And the best part – you don’t have to pack all that gear in.
Now this is not wilderness camping. The camp is barely 10 minutes outside of Monroe and probably less than a mile from Moon Lake campground sitting in an open field/pecan orchard with a gravel road just outside the gate, a few hundred yards away. But once you’re there and sit back and prop your feet up you’re instantly transported.
The sun is sliding west, disappearing through the woods beyond the river. Wood ducks, dark silhouettes in the dusk, are plopping in one pothole then splashing and squealing and rising up to circle the clearing and try another pothole, seeking that perfect spot to settle in for the night. Spring peepers, American toads, cricket frogs and others call loudly and lustily from slough and road ditch and swale while a huge moon crawls into the sky above the levee to peak at us between the clouds.
With bellies full of tasty camp grub that Gil cooked up on a small propane grill, a nice fire in the fire pit and a cool adult beverage, we decided to see if there were any owls in the neighborhood. I walked over to my truck and played a CD of great horned owls. By the time I made it back to my spot by the fire a pair were in the big water oaks above us quietly hooting and carrying on as if talking to themselves about where the interloper might be. The moon was so bright we saw the duo as they left the oak headed for another nearby post where they, once again, began calling as if challenging the intruder.
As bedtime approached a tug passed by headed upriver with two empty barges. Gil had a tent sent up on a mat outside and I retired to the camp. It was a pleasant, warmish February evening. All the windows in the camp were open. The frogs were serenading as loudly as ever, and the owls were still calling in the distance as I crawled into my sleeping bag.
The dawn will be our alarm clock. Black Bayou is only minutes away and the coffee pot is ready to go. Life is good.
An old friend from Mer Rouge, La., George Bowe, was passing through a couple of weeks ago so we decided to take a ride down to Cataloochee and see if the elk were out. We got down to the valley around 3 p.m. and before we got to the Palmer Chapel we spotted elk, grazing and generally lounging around in the fields. It was apparent that the large bulls had already dropped their massive antlers but the young bulls with spikes and small 4-point racks still had antlers.
The elk were brought to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in two groups in early 2001. The first batch of 25 elk from Land Between the Lakes on the Tennessee-Kentucky border was released in 2001. In 2002, another 27 elk from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada were released into the valley. Original reintroduction plans called for a third release, but North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission decided that was too risky (they feared chronic wasting and/or other diseases might be transferred to local deer and/or cattle populations) and the Park Service nixed the last release.
Biologists in neighboring states don’t appear gripped by the same fears. Kentucky estimates its elk population at nearly 10,000 now. About 1,500 elk were released in Kentucky between 1997 and 2002. Tennessee has seen its 200 reintroduced elk (between 2000 and 2008) double in population and Virginia has plans to release hundreds of elk into the southwestern corner of the state this year.
The original reintroduction in the Smokies was billed as a 5-year experimental release during which time the impacts “on” the elk and “of” the elk would be studied and a determination would be made regarding the herd’s status. Because of the inability to release more elk, the study period was extended for three years. The Park Service changed the status of the elk in Cataloochee, early in 2010, from experimental to an official reintroduction. The herd has grown to between 130 and 140 animals at this point.
I was fortunate enough to get to go to Land Between the Lakes back in 2000 when the original elk were rounded up for the trip to the Park. Kim Delozier and his crew were quite professional and the capture went smoothly. However, it was apparent that these elk that lived in a 700-acre fenced-in enclosure were not the wild and wily beasts of the forests and prairies of the West, alert to every movement and/or scent that came their way; prepared to bolt for safety at a moment’s notice.
And the elk George and I found the other day at Cataloochee appeared to have a healthy dose of those genes. After we passed the Palmer Chapel we saw elk again in the front yard of the old Caldwell house. We drove on down to the end of the road and upon seeing no more elk in the fields, we returned to the Caldwell house.
There were a couple of elk (looked like a cow and calf) still grazing in the yard. We got out to get some photos and more elk came from behind the house.
I wanted to show George the old house so we started across the footbridge figuring the elk would mosey on. Well, they moseyed — only toward us, not away, so we returned to the road. Then about four young bulls came out of the woods and into the yard. A couple decided to practice their sparring moves.
Next, the whole group waded into the stream for a drink. And a really curious cow and calf started towards us. We didn’t want to run afoul of any of the Park’s elk protocol, so we retreated to the truck. The cow and calf came right up and started nosing the back hatch of my white Montero. Made me wonder if the Park Service had done any supplemental feeding during the snow and nasty weather this winter from white, Park Service vehicles or if maybe unthinking visitors have actually been feeding them.
Whatever the reason, it’s certainly not good to have 1,000-pound animals that acclimated to humans — they could present a danger to unsuspecting visitors. But more sadly, fed elk can be just as dead as fed bears.
Environmentalism across the U.S. and around the world was spawned from the sludge of greed, industrialization and indifference. Some of the earliest environmental writings in the world date back at least to the 10th century and the Arab Agricultural Revolution. Arab “conservationists” were concerned about air and water contamination and the mishandling of animal waste. In 1272 King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal because of air pollution. Benjamin Franklin led other concerned Philadelphia citizens to petition the Pennsylvania Assembly to remove tanneries from and stop waste dumping in Philadelphia’s commercial district.
And environmentalists in the U.S. continued to react to events such as the extirpation of the passenger pigeon and the near loss of the American Bison. Three-Mile Island, Love Canal and other environmental catastrophes have helped galvanize the image of American environmental groups as those champions who go around righting wrongs.
And, trust me, there have been; there are; and there will be enough “wrongs” to validate this “watchdog” mentality among environmental organizations. But there is also a great opportunity for a different pro-active mindset.
I wrote about the U.S. Forest Service’s stewardship contracts for The Smoky Mountain News on Jan. 19: www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3072-logging-for-cash-versus-long-range-forest-health.
The article points out many of the differences between stewardship contracting and traditional timber bids. Here are some of the main ones. The focus of the project is forest restoration not dollars for board feet. The money received for timber harvested pays for the restoration. Plus, most of the money stays in the region rather than going to the U.S. Treasury and can be used for other restoration projects across the forest.
Another difference, according to Dale Remington, sales forester for the National Forests in North Carolina, is that stewardship contracting is a collaborative effort from the start, bringing together loggers, environmental groups, the public and other interested parties at the beginning of the process to try and shape the goals and outcomes of the project.
Stewardship contracting also allows the forest service to enter into Master Stewardship Agreements with nonprofits and/or other agencies giving those organizations or agencies the responsibility of overseeing the project on the ground and ensuring that stewardship goals are met.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission just signed a Master Stewardship Agreement with the forest service in North Carolina, making it the first state agency in the nation to do so. According to Mallory Martin, deputy director of NCWRC, “This agreement will allow our two agencies to collaborate early on to explore the best possible use of funds to benefit North Carolina’s wildlife resources.” Other groups the Forest Service has worked with in North Carolina include the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society and Quail Unlimited. When I saw NCWRC added to this list, I thought, “Is this forest management or game management?”
So I called Remington to ask him how the forest service felt about stewardship contracting with environmental groups such as The Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club.
“Actually, I’m meeting with David Ray of The Nature Conservancy [in North Carolina], Thursday [2/17],” Remington said. He said the forest service welcomed all partners with the resources and expertise to help administer stewardship contracts.
“I would love to be the first to sit down and hash out a stewardship agreement with an organization like, say, Wild South,” Remington said.
Now, for those watchdog groups out there, stewardship contracting doesn’t bypass the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and all the old avenues are still open if there is something untoward going on. But for those groups with the vision, the resources and the will to restore and help shape America’s forested landscape, now’s the time to shift gears.
The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) and partners are literally moving the earth over in Flat Rock to help restore the Ochlawaha bog.
Excavators are stripping about a foot of fill dirt from an old tomato field in hopes of exposing the natural wetland soils that lie beneath. Next, they will encourage the channeled Mud Creek, which borders one side of the old field, to meander through the wetlands the way infrared imaging shows it used to. Ochlawaha is a Native American name meaning “slowly moving muddy waters” and was once applied to the creek itself.
CMLC and the N.C. Plant Conservation Program obtained a small forested area of the bog in 1998. With the help of the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, they are now working to restore at least 30 acres of bog habitat.
Southern Appalachian mountain bogs are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Biologists estimate that only 500 acres or so of bog remain. Many scientists believe the area around Ochlawaha bog, fed by Mud Creek, could have contained the largest expanse of wetlands in the Southern Appalachians. Volunteers have worked planting native trees and the Western North Carolina Alliance has assisted with invasive exotic plant control.
Unfortunately for bogs and the critters and plants that call them home, they occupy/occupied what, in today’s market would be classified as “prime real estate.” So for settlers looking for a place to build a home, grow a crop or pasture domestic animals – flat was good. And while it was labor intensive, early settlers were pretty adept at draining wetlands. Then with the industrial revolution and ever-increasing mechanical capabilities, draining wetlands became easy and, even, filling depressions was just another day at work.
The vast majority of Southern Appalachian bogs are now homes, farms, subdivisions, strip malls, football fields, etc. And the vast majority of endemic Southern Appalachian bog flora and fauna is extinct, endangered and or threatened. At least 90 mountain wetland species in North Carolina are considered rare, threatened or endangered. They include the bog turtle, mountain sweet pitcher plant, swamp pink, Gray’s lily, green pitcher plant and bunched arrowhead.
The endangered bunch arrowhead, Sagittaria fasciculata, is known from only about a dozen sites, all in either Henderson County or Greenville County, S.C. It has been recorded from the area of Ochlawaha bog and CMLC and U.S. Fish & Wildlife and partners hope that by enhancing the site it will provide the opportunity to re-establish bunched arrowhead plus create habitat for other wetland plants and animals.
Mountain bogs not only produce habitat for wetland flora and fauna, they also assist in flood control by slowing floodwaters down and allowing them to soak into the ground. Bogs also work as great water filters taking sediment and contaminants out of the water.
Some other notable wetland-preservation efforts around Western North Carolina include the Rough Creek watershed in Canton, Flat Laurel Creek and Tallulah Bog.
I believe CMLC is on the right track — just build it and they will come, they being the bunched arrowhead and other endemic bog species.