SePPCon 2020

Brenda L. Wicchman, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Chris Stoehrel U.S. Forest Service, Cherokee National Forest

Caitlin Elam Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Division of Natural Areas

Some of the rarest wetlands in the southeastern United States are the non-alluvial wetlands of the Blue Ridge region. Many of these wetlands are current conservation areas or priorities and these wetlands, colloquially known as bogs, harbor many rare and endemic plant species as well as globally rare plant communities. Targets for conservation priority have traditionally been the lower reaches of these systems which contain the concentrated rare species occurrences, while not considering the sources of hydrology, the headwaters. We will discuss a non-profit, federal, and state partnership approach to enhancing the resiliency of these systems through holistic ecosystem protection in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

April Punsalan, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

April Punsalan describes work that Jason Ayers has done with the South Coastal Program in South Carolina protecting and restoring wetland ecosystems.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Jeremy Frencha and Brittney Viers, Quail Forever/Southeastern Grasslands Initiative

The southeastern region of the U.S. was one of the most diverse grassland regions of North America, yet more than 99% has been lost due to such factors as conversion to row crop agriculture, forest succession, and wetland drainage. Reversing the decline in grassland biodiversity will require a regional effort with a multitude of partners. Our objective is to use NRCS-RCPP (Regional Conservation Partnership Program) funds to conduct a multifaceted conservation program that will complement existing efforts, especially near protected landscapes. This RCPP is led by the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Our RCPP includes efforts needed to recover populations of grassland bird species deemed in need of conservation attention by Partners in Flight, as well as the native biodiversity associated with the historic grassland landscapes of the Interior Low Plateaus ecoregion of Tennessee and Kentucky. Habitat improvements for the bird species of concern, which are more dependent on vegetation structure than on species composition, can be accomplished by opening up suppressed native grasslands with removal of woody cover and prescribed fire, reconversion of cropland or fescue pastures to native grasses, increasingforb-to-grass ratios, changing grazing intensities, and altering haying regimes. We are also focusing on imperiled grasslands simply in need of management practices to restore them back to their natural conditions. This strategy will be employed in cases where higher native plant diversity is important to maximize benefits to a wider variety of organisms. Three species of grassland-breeding birds were designated as priorities for the CHJV in the 2016 Landbird Conservation Plan: Northern Bobwhite, Henslow's Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. The CHJV region supported an estimated 6.5 million-acres of native grasslands (prairies, savannas, barrens, glades) at the time of European settlement, but nearly all of it has been lost or degraded due to conversion to row-crop agriculture or non-native pasture grasses, succession to woodlands and forests, and urban development. As a result, it is critical that we work with NRCS and other partner agencies and organizations to implement farm bill programs that favor grassland restoration, either through biodiverse focused conservation practices or establishing native warm season grass pastures that mutually benefit livestock and native grassland species.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Carol Denhof, Longleaf Alliance

The Longleaf Pine was once the dominant tree species in the south, covering over 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Over the last 400 years, the abundance of this species has decreased due to non-sustainable timber harvest, clearing of land for agriculture and development and exclusion of fire. As this ecosystem was diminished, many of its associated plants and animals have become federally threatened or endangered, state-listed or, at best, rare. At the low point in the 1990’s, it was estimated that less than 3 million acres remained. Today, because of the work of The Longleaf Alliance and our partner NGOs, state and federal agencies, and private landowners we are making progress, and now estimate the extent of the resource at 4.7 million acres. An increasing number of landowners that are restoring longleaf to their lands are becoming interested in using a whole ecosystem approach to longleaf restoration. In addition to the traditional interest in longleaf timber production, they have come to appreciate the value in managing forests that support plant and animal diversity as well as the overall health of the ecosystem. Having this diversity in place is essential to achieving their objectives as landowners. It also contributes to true restoration of the South’s great longleaf forest. With the majority of longleaf-suitable lands existing on private lands, the importance of engaging these landowners to support ecosystem restoration and conservation is more important than ever. It is also important to work in partnership with other groups to reach long-term restoration goals. The Longleaf Alliance is working in conjunction with other partners that are members of the Longleaf Partnership Council (LPC) to achieve the restoration goals established by America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative. Restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and the species associated with it is a high priority for all 33 members of the LPC. The LPC has set an ambitious goal of increasing the acreage of longleaf pine to 8 million acres by 2025. Members include federal agencies including US Forest Service (USFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of Defense, state agencies, NGO’s, and private landowners.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Allyson Read, Natural Resource Specialist, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, National Park Service 

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area stretches along 48 miles of the Chattahoochee River from Buford Dam at Lake Lanier to Peachtree Creek in the city of Atlanta. The federal park includes the river plus 16 land units that provide almost 70% of the region’s greenspace offering diverse recreational opportunities and ecosystem diversity within the urbanized environment. The river corridor in this rapidly growing metropolitan area includes many utility rights of way that pre-existed the park in addition to the constant expansion and improvement of local infrastructure. In an effort to minimize resource injury yet allow the utility companies full access to their lines for maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation, CRNRA has created a program to ensure the utilities maintain structure integrity while protecting the park resources. An integral part of the program are several management tools that when used with existing agreements and resources makes the program easily transferable and available for use on most utility corridors. Collaborative efforts among local and national utilities, botanical gardens, non-profits, and individuals have facilitated the ability to promote the utility corridors as locally critical early-successional habitat. The result has been a decrease in resource injury and an increase in the botanical and biological diversity within these corridors and within the urban environment.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Jim Ozier, Environmental Specialist, Environmental and Natural Resources, Georgia Power Company

The Georgia Power Company is an investor-owned utility that generates, delivers, and markets electricity throughout most of the state. The company is one of the state's largest private landowners; conservation attributes of these lands include a refuge for the world's only population of Georgia alder (Alnus maritima georgiensis) and federally designated Critical Habitat for Georgia rockcress (Arabis georgiana). Georgia Power also manages the vegetation on thousands of miles of powerline corridors to ensure safe and reliable power delivery. This is generally accomplished through an integrated approach of mowing every 6 years and targeted backpack spraying of woody encroachment every 2 years inbetween. Incidentally this maintains valuable open habitat needed by many grasses and forbs. Sites known to harbor rare species are designated for management using only hand tools as needed. Examples include several pitcherplant (Sarracenia spp.) bogs and habitat for the federally endangered hairy rattleweed (Baptisia arachnifera). Additionally, Georgia Power is a partner in a Candidate Conservation Agreement for the Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) and conducts surveys, monitoring, and special management for this species, which appears to be doing well on company lands and rights-of-way.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Cooper Breeden and Dwayne Estes, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative / TPCA

In Fall 2019, conservation partners from across the southeast began to convene on a monthly call to discuss how to tackle the complex problem of improperly managed roadsides—roadsides that are either being sprayed or mowed to death to the detriment of rare and unique plant species and communities. This update will include a summary of roadside protection efforts in Tennessee. We will briefly review recent changes in the state’s management policy and its implications on conservation. In addition, we will review a new project we have started in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. This project includes a status assessment of roadside pollinator and grassland habitat, the development of a roadside management plan, and the installation of a demonstration prairie.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Tara Littlefield and Tony Romano, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves

Roadsides are increasingly recognized for their potential importance in conservation planning. Roadsides are generally less threatened by development than surrounding areas and are maintained in an open condition. Because of these factors, roadsides in Kentucky are one of the few areas that contain remnant native grassland communities. These roadside grasslands often support rare plant species and provide important habitat for pollinating insects including monarch butterflies and native bees. If these resources are not identified and incorporated into management plans, they can be highly vulnerable to harmful management actions and rapidly degrade. Since 2015, the Office of Kentucky Native Preserves (OKNP) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) have worked collaboratively on several plant conservation projects including natural areas acquisition, restoration and planting recommendations, seed collection, and management coordination for several high quality roadside grasslands. In 2019, OKNP, in partnership with KYTC and Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF), updated inventories of remnant grasslands and rare plants along roads in the national forest. To expand on these surveys, OKNP partnered with the Kentucky Native Plant society to create an iNaturalist citizen scientist project where volunteers can contribute their observations of roadside habitats in the national forest. These projects were important for building positive collaboration between ONKP and KYTC, and we are now implementing a broader Pollinator Conservation Strategy to address the conservation needs along our roadsides. In 2020, OKNP is initiating a 5-year statewide survey of Kentucky’s roadsides to establish a baseline of data. This program will document remnant natural communities, rare plants, and high quality pollinator habitat. These surveys will inform coordination with KYTC districts and help prioritize conservation and management of important roadside habitats. This program will develop trainings for KYTC staff and incorporate citizen scientists to expand our reach. We still have a lot of hurdles to cross for roadside plant and pollinator conservation, but partnerships and communication is possible and can provide a path towards achieving conservation goals.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Sujai Veeramachaneni (GDOT), Felicity Davis (GDOT), Chris Goodson (GDOT), Anna Yellin (WRD), Meg Hedeen (GDOT), Carrie Keogh (Emory University)

Protected plant species that prefer open and forest edge habitats can find unexpected homes in regularly maintained transportation rights-of-way. Avoidance and minimization of these resources is a critical goal for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) during design and construction of proposed transportation projects. When protected plant surveys identify protected plant populations in rights-of-way which can be avoided by proposed projects, GDOT designates an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) to be signed and maintained in perpetuity. While designating ESAs is not a new practice, GDOT desired a consistent tracking system for, sometimes historic, ESA records. Only a couple known ESA sites had dedicated management plans, another challenge for conservation of these important plant populations. Starting in 2018, GDOT partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as Emory University, to assess current practices and develop a plan for tracking and managing ESA sites across Georgia. Tracking, management and recovery development efforts involved contributions from and coordination between many parties both external and internal to GDOT. Existing practices and proposals for improvement were developed by Emory University students participating in a service learning course. WRD provided element occurrence data that intersect existing rights-of-way, while existing ESA locations continue to be identified by GDOT District personnel and consultants surveying for proposed transportation projects. A template ESA management plan was developed to help record site information for tracking and recovery efforts, including site-specific management actions that will be easily accessible for GDOT District Maintenance personnel. Development of this tracking and maintenance system is on-going, but the future of rare plant recovery in roadway rights-of-way seems bright.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. Dwayne Estes, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative Plant Conservation Issues on Roadsides and Right of Ways in Alabama

Patrick Thompson, Coordinator Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance

Alfred Schotz, Botanist Alabama Natural Heritage Program

Michelle Reynolds, Administrator Southeastern Roadside Defenders

Patrick Daniel, Collaborator Southeastern Roadside Defenders

Alabama has a diversity of habitats, species, ideologies and challenges. Private lands management is a place where these things all come together. On the roadsides, this is especially true. The most heartening thing about the condition of Alabama’s roadside plant communities is the fact that they have voices speaking up for them. The Southeastern Roadside Defenders is a place for voices to come together. The goals of the Southeastern Roadside Defenders Facebook page is to gather and share information on good vegetation management plans, share herbicide regulatory info, promote examples of good programs and success stories, while building a network of allies. We believe in grassroots activism. By sharing good examples as well as the bad, we think we can connect the dots and build a broad network to help combat the overuse of herbicides and the subsequent destruction of plant communities that provide important eco-services along our roadways. We believe roadside wildflowers play a role connecting people, land, communities, and tourism. We use before and after photos to demonstrate harm to plants, erosion caused by the lack of plants, and harm to the environment and stormwater infrastructure from the erosion and sediment. We focus on these points in discussion with officials: public health, aesthetics, connectivity, environment, water quality, and road/shoulder degradation. We partner with allies and meet with officials and municipalities to help align their comprehensive goals with best practices in vegetation management. By mirroring language written by city, county, and state planners, we strive to find common ground and help to develop policy. This approach has been slow but steady. We encourage others to speak and act locally by arming them with information and talking points. Steam is building. There are real problems in this state. Phlox pulchra, an S1G1 species with only 6 occurences has been sprayed with herbicide at two roadside locations. The conversations with people concerned about roadside vegetation management across the region have shown us that our problems are not unique. Alabama looks forward to pointing to the successful work being done in North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and our other southeastern states to hold our vegetation managers to these higher standards. Alabama’s roadside species will benefit from all of your efforts to raise the bar, and we thank you for that.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020