CHAPEL HILL - OWASA board members learned firsthand last week what a forest looks like after its been actively managed.
Logging crews harvested 50 acres at the 490-acre Cane Creek Reservoir Wildlife Mitigation Tract near Buckhorn Road in the fall of 2010. The work was done in two phases.
In the first phase, 25 acres were clear-cut and replanted the following January with 500 to 600 loblolly pines per acre. The second phase thinned out trees on another 25 acres that had a large number of white oaks and transplanted hickories, oaks and some pines. On Monday, pink flags waved from 12- to 18-inch-tall transplants, while other young hardwoods grew around them from acorns newly exposed to sunlight.
Forest and water quality experts inspected the site before, during and after the harvest, and after herbicides were applied. They will continue to gauge the water quality through other phases of the plan, which aims to grow the best-quality oaks up to roughly 120 years old, said David Halley, owner of True North Forest Management Services of Holly Springs.
A lot of people equate ugly with bad for the environment, and thats just not true. Weve got a reborn forest
[with] a mosaic of different species at different ages, Halley said.Forestry plan
Five current and incoming OWASA board members joined Halley, OWASA officials and representatives from the N.C. Forestry Service and the Wildlife Resources Commission to tour the Buckhorn tract nearly 19 months after the harvest.
The board will consider a revised forestry plan in the not too distant future, OWASA sustainability manager Pat Davis said. It wont have major changes but will explain more clearly the management of forests and buffers, he said.
OWASA planning director Ed Holland said they earned roughly $8,100 from selling the timber and wood chips after paying $25,933 to build an access road and install a gate, to pay True North, and to plant new trees and apply the herbicide imazapyr to selected plants.
True North gets 10 percent commission on the trees sold, plus a marking fee of $35 per acre.
The Buckhorn tract is a model for OWASAs forestry management plan, Davis said. All but 137 acres will be thinned or clear-cut over the next 20 years. The next harvest could be sometime next year, he said. They will maintain a 150- to 250-foot buffer along the stream, which runs into Turkey Hill Creek and eventually Cane Creek.
In the meantime, crews will extend the road and build a permanent bridge to replace an old ground crossing through the stream. The work is budgeted at roughly $40,000, Holland said.
By reinvesting its profits, the forestry program should sustain itself, he said. OWASAs holdings
OWASA owns roughly 3,700 acres in Orange County including the 500-acre Cane Creek Reservoir and 114 acres in Chatham County.
A draft plan introduced in 2010 would have affected 1,900 acres on 17 tracts and left about 500 acres of riparian buffers undisturbed. Roughly 137 acres will be left intact on the Buckhorn tract, which OWASA bought in 1982 to offset hunting areas lost to the Cane Creek Reservoir. The Buckhorn Game Lands are open to bow hunting during deer season, and hikers are welcome other times of the year, OWASA officials said.
In 2009, OWASA hired True North after the N.C. Division of Forest Resources and the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission advised them to manage their forests, Davis said. State officials were concerned about damage from storms, insects and diseases, drought and fire, he said.
OWASA shelved the plan in early 2011 to consider public comments and criticisms. Several speakers suggested additional steps, like forming a citizens advisory committee, reviewing water quality, habitat and species diversity issues, and asking state water agencies for advice.
Davis said the N.C. Division of Water Quality weighed in on the revised plan, as did the N.C. Forestry Service and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC).
Chris Dawes, a WRC game lands supervisor, said the forestry plan is an excellent way to manage that supports more species and doesnt risk the entire forest on one catastrophic event.
Butterflies and ladybugs flitted past Monday as the group picked its way through native grasses and herbs, long decaying limbs and piles of rocks. A wild turkey squawked in the distance.
Jake Pressley, an Orange County ranger with the N.C. Forest Service, said the land likely was farmed long ago, leaving it riddled with gullies. The clear-cut area was an 80-year-old stand of Virginia pines with a lot of storm damage, he said.
Youve got to look at this whole land as an organism, and by us planning for that growth and regeneration, thats setting up a growth cycle that will last 60 to 120 years. Its not temporary; were managing for specific reasons, Pressley said.
Kelly Douglass, of the WRC, said forest management also benefits wildlife, because more sun reaches the forest floor, giving smaller trees, bushes and grasses a chance to grow and provide food and shelter.
Singling out a clump of native blue-stem grass, Douglas said it provides foresters with fuel for controlled burns and young birds with a safe place to find bugs and seeds.
You wouldnt have had [those species] in the original forest, she said.