Liaison Panel Meeting

Bankhead Liaison Panel

Meeting Notes

November 8, 2001

Double Springs, AL

The meeting was opened with a welcome by Glen Gaines.

Agenda Item:

Bankhead Forest Health and Restoration Initiative

Glen Gaines introduced the topic for this meeting. The Bankhead Forest Health and Restoration Initiative began when the southern pine beetle infestation reached epidemic proportions and the resulting impact created the need to make some decisions on how to manage these impacts. This initiative has been discussed informally at previous liaison panel meetings. However, the Bankhead is now getting ready to publish a formal Notice of Intent in the Federal Register. At this meeting, John Creed, who is the team leader for this initiative, made a presentation on the Bankhead’s current proposed action for this Notice of Intent.

As part of his presentation, John distributed copies of a summary of the historical background of the Bankhead National Forest. This history will be used as a basis for decisions regarding the desired future conditions on the Bankhead as well providing information for project level decisions. The desire future conditions, which are a part of this proposed action, are long term and are aimed at sustaining a representation of nine (9) forest community types that are native to the Southern Cumberland Plateau region. Emphasis will be placed on maintaining forest and plant community types not abundant on private lands. These communities include fire dependent upland pine/bluestem and oak woodland ecosystems, mid- to late-successional deciduous forests (including cove hardwood/eastern hemlock forests), old-growth representation of all nine (9) forest community types, and eight (8) rare plant community types. Management activities for specific projects analyzed in this proposed action will include six (6) of these native community types which are the shortleaf/bluestem woodlands, xeric (very dry)oak-pine woodlands, dry and xeric oak forest and woodlands or xeric-dry oak-pine forest communities, and the northern extent of longleaf/bluestem woodlands. The absence of fire, in combination with major land use changes, has also resulted in a decline of native grassland and shrub conditions that should be common in some of the upland forests. In turn, a decline in native plant and animal diversity across the region has occurred.

The Interdisciplinary Team has divided the forest into three areas for purposes of analysis and decision. John displayed a map generated by the Geographic Information System (GIS) which displayed the three areas and the stands within each area which will be analyzed for possible forest health and restoration management activities. The emphasis in Area 1 will be toward the restoration of the hardwood native community types. The emphasis in Area 2 will be toward the restoration of shortleaf pine/bluestem, mixed pine/hardwood and hardwood community types. The emphasis in Area 3 will be longleaf pine/bluestem. However, not every acre in each area will be actively managed. For example, the Sipsey Wilderness is included in Area 1, but there will be no management activities in those 25,000 acres other than allowing natural events to occur, even though the southern pine beetle has had a significant impact within the wilderness area. Moreover, there will stands within both Areas 2 and 3 which will have either no forest health or restoration activities or minimal activities.

The other part of the proposed action is the forest health and restoration and the activities which will be used to accomplish it. Forest health and restoration are short term goals which are to be accomplished within 5 years after the decision document, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is signed. To date, the analysis in all of these areas will be limited to loblolly pine stands between the ages of 15-45 years which are at high risk for future forest health problems and the areas which have been killed by the southern pine beetle for restoration activities. The management tools that will be used to achieve these goals include commercial thinning the loblolly pine stands that are overstocked and are at high risk for future forest health problems. Depending on the desired future conditions within each given area, the thinning specifications will vary, favoring hardwoods in the areas where the emphasis is restoration of hardwood community types and favoring pines in areas where the pine or mixed pine/hardwood community types are the emphasis. Restoration activities will include artificial regeneration (planting trees), natural regeneration, with or without site preparation and prescribed burning. Prescribed burning may also be used as a silvicultural tool to restore and maintain fire dependent native community ecosystems.

The following were voiced by panel member and attendees regarding this proposal

Concerns:

The implementation of a fire regime on the Bankhead with no research, studies or baseline data.

Prescribed burning permanently killing understory species, such as shrubs, etc.

Since there will be no active management of the wilderness, despite the extent of the southern pine beetle impact, there will not be any trees of measurable size for at least 10 years and possibly longer.

Questions:

Will be there any management of bottomlands, coves, etc. included in this proposed action? If not, what happens if there any outbreaks of insects and/or diseases in these areas? Will nothing be done?

Decisions about the activities in these areas are beyond the scope of this decision.

Once these native communities have been restored, how will they be maintained?

Communities may be maintained through a variety of methods, ranging from no action to actions that include prescribed burning, timber harvest and silvicultural practices such as noncommercial thinning and release. The existing condition in relationship to the stated desired condition will help determine future treatment needs beyond this decision.

Wildlife Species and Habitats

Tom Counts, Bankhead District Wildlife Biologist gave a presentation about the wildlife (both game and non-game) and plants which exists on the Bankhead RD and the how the Forest Health and Restoration Initiative will enhance and affect the habitats for the species known to exist on the Bankhead.

In his presentation, Tom defined the terms threatened, endangered and sensitive species as well as locally rare species as applied to both animal and plant species. Habitats for threatened, endangered and sensitive species which exist on the Bankhead were described with corresponding lists of the species that are found in each habitat. The proposed action will not include projects in many of these habitats. However, some plant and animal habitats will benefit from some types of management activities which are included in this proposed action.

A list of Partners In Flight priority bird populations and habitats were presented. Tom also discussed which habitats and corresponding species benefited from fire disturbances.

The following were voiced by panel member and attendees regarding this proposal:

Questions:

Why proactive management for songbird and other bird species habitat here on the Bankhead when the decline of many species can be attributed to the winter ranges in Central and South America?

The Bankhead contributes important breeding habitat for these species and we will continue to be proactive.

Are all of the species listed in this presentation going to become listed as endangered species?

No. That is one reason for being proactive now is to avoid the need for any species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The meeting was adjourned. No date was set for the next meeting.





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/alabama/about-forest/districts/?cid=stelprdb5155009