GON recently fielded a call from hunter Oliver Bliss concerning what he believed to be excessive timber cutting at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge located in Jones and Jasper counties.
“I’m 71 years old and have been hunting those woods for over 50 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. They’re cutting down all of the giant historic oak trees, it almost looks like a clearcut out there,” said Oliver.
When GON reached out to the refuge for comment, Carolyn Johnson, assistant refuge manager at Piedmont, wanted to assure readers that no cutting out of the ordinary is going on.
“Habitat restoration is our mission at Piedmont. We use both prescribed burns and prescribed timber thinning to improve both the forest itself, and the lives of the wildlife that live in it,” said Carolyn.
Piedmont was first opened in 1940, and both burning and thinning have been used annually to improve wildlife habitat ever since. This year there has been approximately 1,500 acres of timber thinned, not clearcut, in compartments 28, 32 and 33. According to Carolyn, this 1,500 acres is a pretty normal number for what is thinned each year.
“We need to cut at least a thousand acres a year just to try and maintain the forest. Some years we just don’t have the resources to do it, and some years we’re able to get a little more thinning done,” Carolyn explained.
The refuge mainly uses regeneration as the primary means of replacing cut timber. By thinning out smaller trees, the larger trees have room to grow, and eventually their seeds fall and replant the forest naturally.
Both pines and hardwoods are cut and sold on an annual basis, with the profits from timber sales going into a federal sharing program that helps with road construction and education in county’s where federal lands are located.
“Since we’re not cutting for profit, every prescribed cut is done with deer, turkey and other wildlife in mind. Another major focus for us right now is habitat restoration for the red cockaded woodpecker that is currently an endangered species,” said Carolyn.
The timber cutting that Oliver is most concerned about is located in Compartment 33 off of Highway 18.
“We have had cutting going on in that area this fall, and right now it does look a little thin,” said Carolyn. “Anytime you take out lots of smaller trees, it leaves the forest looking bare. We always do our best to leave the largest mast-producing trees for wildlife, and at times, we do have to cut some big trees to make room for those really large, 100-plus-year-old oaks.”
Carolyn encouraged anyone who has any questions or concerns about timber cutting or other refuge practices to call or stop by the refuge anytime.
“We’re here to help anyway we can. If you have input as to how we can make the forest a better place, we would love to hear and consider it when making future decisions at the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge,” said Carolyn.
To see a Piedmont map, go to https://www.fws.gov/piedmont. To reach Piedmont, call them at (478) 986-5441.