Lessons learned at ‘field day’

Published 9:51 am Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Malcolm and Renee Graham listen as Bill Finch tells them about a native plant that grows in the reserve.

Malcolm and Renee Graham listen as Bill Finch tells them about a native plant that grows in the reserve.

Groups of landowners met Thursday at Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve, to learn more about what the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is doing with the property.

The event, called a “field day,” consisted of a tour of part of the 6,500 acres PCI began purchasing for the preserve in 2004, said Beau Brodbeck, of the Alabama Cooperative Extension.

Magnolia Branch is now managed for longleaf pine, Brodbeck said, but before PCI bought it, it was being used to mine sand and gravel.

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Last year Magnolia Branch won the Helene Mosley Memorial Treasure Forest Award, Brodbeck said. The award selects landowners who have gone above and beyond in conducting outstanding multiple-use forest management.

“The tour is our regional tour for the Helene Mosley award,” Brodbeck said. “It gives other landowners a chance to see what they’re doing.”

The tour consisted of five educational stops, where experts spoke on topics including: gopher tortoises, longleaf pine management, native plants, water quality management and understory, or grasses.

John Russell owns 88 acres of longleaf pine with his sister-in-law in Oak Grove, Fla. He came to the field day to learn how to better care for the 7-year-old trees.

“We do it for aesthetics and for the recreation value,” he said. “We’re looking at doing pine straw.”

Russell said the property has been in his family since 1946.

The group learned facts about a critter important to proper management of longleaf forests, with the help of Claude Jenkins, a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Wildlife Federation as well as Barnie White and Heather Glass with Magnolia Branch.

Jenkins said gopher tortoises are declining in population largely because of habitat loss and predators.

Jenkins said he’s not sure of the success rate of the burrowing species at Magnolia Branch, but on average, one nest is successful over a 10-year period.

“With odds like one out of 10, it’s going to be hard to survive,” Jenkins told the group.

The tortoises are a keystone species, Jenkins said. More than 300 other species use the burrows made by the tortoises.

As part of the demonstration, White and Glass worked together using a camera to show visitors the inside of a tortoise burrow.

Neal Dansby, with the Covington County Forestry Committee, said he hopes to learn something he can take back to Andalusia with him.

“They’re letting nature be nature,” Dansby said, of PCI’s efforts with Magnolia Branch. “They’re trying to let the land do what the land does best.”

On the next stop, the group heard from Ad Platt, of the Longleaf Alliance, on proper management of the forest and the various uses of longleaf pine.

“Longleaf is the king of southern pine,” he said. “There were 92 million acres of it from Virginia to Florida.”

He said the species is naturally insect resistant, heat resistant and cold resistant.

“The largest natural cause of mortality is lightning,” Platt said.

Bill Finch spoke to the group about the various native plants that grow in the area and Eve Brantley, of the cooperative extension program, spoke to the group about water quality management.

The tour ended with Longleaf Alliance’s Carol Denhof’s discussion on understory.

For more photos from the “field day” pick up a copy of Wednesday’s edition of The Atmore Advance.