Monday, 17 November 2003: 11:30 AM
Collaborative partnerships and landscape-scale fire restoration on the Bayou Ranger District in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas, USA
Collaborative landscape-scale fire restoration in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas depends on a multi-partner approach. Partners bringing expertise from a variety of backgrounds is key to the success of these landscape-scale projects. The Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, The Nature Conservancy, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Southwestern Fire Use Training Academy, Quail Unlimited, private landowners and others are currently engaged in a collaborative project to restore the oak-hickory and pine-oak ecosystems of the Interior Highlands. Due to past land management activities, there is substantially more closed canopy forests (oak-hickory, oak-pine and shortleaf pine), and less woodlands/savannas (oak-hickory-pine woodland/savanna, oak-hickory woodland, and shortleaf pine woodland/savanna) than occurred historically under a more frequent fire regime. Historic records indicate that pre-settlement Ozark woodlands averaged around 38-76 trees per acre. Current densities in much of the region average 300-1000 stems per acre. Currently, the native red oak borer is impacting the 1.5 million acres of the Interior Highlands. Red oak decline has impacted at least 300,000 acres of the Ozark National Forest, including the Bayou Ranger District, and intermixed private property. Oak mortality is contributing significantly to increased hazardous fuels in the wildland urban interface, threatening municipal water supplies as well as unwanted impacts to biodiversity. The Bayou Ranger District is implementing a long term, landscape scale ecosystem restoration project in a Nature Conservancy “conservation priority” area. Specific project activities include the application of periodic prescribed fire and forest thinning by commercial and non-commercial methods. The goals of these activities are to increase forest health, restore fire dependent woodland ecosystems, provide for safety in the wildland/urban interface and protect municipal water sources. The collaborative project defines resource management activities based on the Forest ecological classification system, on 60,000 acres of intermixed public and private lands. Landscape scale Fuels Reduction and Ecosystem Restoration activities are currently being implemented. Six restoration areas (6,800-12,550 acres) have been identified. Each restoration area is made up of 3 to 6 landscape scale prescribed fire units. For 2003, restoration activities are in planning, implementation, and monitoring. Planning includes preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Middle Fork Area (12,200 acres) and an EA with a project-specific LRMP amendment on the remaining 47,800 acres. Implementation activities for woodland restoration include prescribed fire (8,300 acres burned this year in the Middle Fork area) and commercial sales, wildland-urban interface (WUI) fuels treatments, and wildlife stand improvement (WSI) treatments. Also, implementation activities include publishing an educational brochure and two ecosystem restoration papers for national and local distribution. The construction of an interpretive roadside scenic overlook explaining the ecosystem restoration will be completed. In addition, the Bayou Ranger District, The Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission have completed version 1.1 of a project ecological monitoring program to document and quantify fuels reduction and forest health enhancement actions in achieving the desired future condition. Specifically, the program includes monitoring goals, project success criteria, macro-plots sampling methodology and nine individual monitoring protocols to determine if the project is meeting success criteria defined by all partners.