Forest restoration in the southern Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau is viewed by some as a controversial subject. Historical fire regimes are not always well documented, high deer populations may or may not alter forest regeneration following thinning and fire, and the role of exotics in forest response are questions that we still need to resolve.
At Sewanee, students spend the lecture portion of the Forest and Watershed Restoration class reading about historical accounts of fire in the region, some of which go back 300 years. We also read about the work of the scientific community in oak/hickory and shortleaf pine communities, and what they have uncovered as they utilize fire and thinning on other southern landscapes.
In our laboratory, we use our time to document pre-treatment plant cover, prepare our sites for thinning and fire, follow thinning with prescribed fire (12 fires in the past 3 years) and annual post-treatment monitoring. Inside our 13,000 acres of primarily closed forest, we are creating small patches of oak savannas as well as openings to encourage the regeneration of shortleaf pine, which is rare on the property.
Are we truly restoring our forest to a pre-colonial condition? We do not know this. But we do know that we are creating patches of plant diversity in our forest matrix, creating conditions that are conducive for the regeneration of oak and shortleaf pine, and giving our students first-hand experience of what forest manipulations and fire look and feel like before they graduate.
Thanks to Nate Wilson, Dr. Devan McGranahan, Nicole Nunley, Nick White, and Dr. Scott Torreano for providing supervision and assistance, and to the Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department and the Tennessee Division of Forestry for valuable back-up on burn days.
Filmed by Will Watson (C'13), Edited by Stephen L. Garrett - Sewanee Office of Marketing and Communications (with Will Watson).