Blue Ridge District Pine Thinning Revisited
By David Govus : District Leader and Board Member
In July of 2012, the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (CONF) proposed thinning 7,000 acres of ‘overstocked’ pines to prevent disease. These 7,000 acres comprised some 120 stands. Stands typically are 20 – 80 acre sections of the forest that have a similar forest type. The entire CONF is mapped and divided into thousands of these stands. Georgia ForestWatch was skeptical of this proposal because many of the stands proposed for thinning are located in the Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area and in the headwaters of the Etowah River. To reach some of the stands, the proposal also included rebuilding bridges over Noontootla Creek that formerly were used to access clear-cutting areas. All of these areas are well known to Georgia ForestWatch, and it was difficult to envision most of them having thick stands of pines.
So, Georgia ForestWatch surveyed 20 randomly-selected stands over several days in August and found that only one stand had overstocked pines. Many of the stands had no pines at all. While discussing our survey at a meeting on site, the Forest Service acknowledged that most of the stands did not need thinning, and the proposal was shelved.
This summer the Blue Ridge District reintroduced the pine thinning proposal in a much more modest and acceptable form. The project acreage was reduced from 7,000 acres to 700 acres, and the stands from 120 to 20. Several Georgia ForestWatch members field-checked the new proposal, and of the 15 stands examined, 12 did in fact contain overstocked pine. Although the reason for including any inappropriate stands in this second proposal is unclear, the quick turnover of foresters on the district may have something to do with it. The forester who first proposed the thinning left shortly after our on-site discussion, and the current forester is now leaving after less than a year on the district.
Fortunately, Georgia ForestWatch has a deep institutional knowledge of the forest and is staying engaged. It should be noted that most of the stands currently identified for thinning are old Forest Service clear-cuts that would be mature diverse forest by now if not for earlier ‘treatment’.