A professional conservation staff manages The Preserve lands. Prescribed fire, sustainable forestry, plantings and nesting structures for wildlife, and removal of exotic species are some of the management techniques used to create and maintain healthy ecosystems across the property. The Preserve often works with grants and state, federal and private conservation partners to carry out specific conservation projects.
The Callaway Gardens property that exists as part of Georgia’s Forest Legacy conservation easement program contains a population of old Longleaf Pine trees, but very few young Longleaf Pines. One of the primary conservation objectives for this land is to encourage more young Longleaf trees to thrive and grow on the mountain. Recently, a portion of this habitat was burned using prescribed fire in order to create better conditions for the Longleaf to thrive. Also, with the help of volunteers some of the less desirable trees surrounding the Longleaf seedlings were removed to allow more sunlight, water and nutrients to reach the seedlings, fostering faster growth.
In addition, Callaway Gardens staff collected seed from several of the mature Longleaf trees. These seeds have been planted and grown in a nursery setting so that in the future the resulting seedling trees can be planted out to help restore even more of these beautiful trees to the forest. Historically, Pine Mountain Ridge was named after the regal Longleaf Pine, and The Preserve staff is working diligently to make sure this species remains a viable component of the Pine Mountain Ridge ecosystem.
Prescribed fire is an important land management tool used on The Preserve at Callaway Gardens. Most prescribed fire activities are implemented during the Winter and early Spring. Prescribed fire improves the health and biodiversity of many ecosystems. Like a prescribed medication, prescribed fire is intended to treat the current condition of a specific ecosystem and improve it. Prescribed fires are not wildfires, but instead are fires that are carefully set in predetermined patterns on specific tracts of land for a certain ecological purpose. Weather conditions including wind, temperature and humidity are carefully assessed and monitored prior to and during the burn.
Fire is a natural disturbance in the Southeast and helps naturally regulate certain plant communities. However, for safety reasons, it is usually unreasonable to allow natural fires to occur. Thus, carefully planned prescribed fires are used. Some of the benefits of prescribed fire include:
- Reducing the fuel load across the site (thus reducing the chance of catastrophic wildfire occurring by accident)
- Encouraging populations of fire adapted species (such as Longleaf Pine) to thrive
- Cycling nutrients more quickly
- Opening scenic vistas
- Preparing sites for seeding or planting
- Controlling tree diseases
- Improving the habitat for wildlife
Prescribed fire has been re-introduced as a management tool on The Preserve at Callaway Gardens in the last 10 years, and already our conservation staff is seeing significant ecological benefits in the areas of the property that have been burned. For more information on prescribed fire, refer to The Georgia Forestry Commission’s website at www.gfc.state.ga.us.
In The Preserve at Callaway Gardens sustainable forestry techniques are used to manage its forested landscapes. Forestry activities on the property are designed to improve habitat for wildlife, contribute to the overall health and diversity of the forest and protect the quality of the watershed. A registered forester on our staff determines the management and harvest goals for the property.
In 1998 Callaway Gardens was the second non-industrial licensee to enroll land in the American Forestry and Paper Association’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program. At that time we made a commitment to only harvest trees in compliance with SFI principles.
In Georgia, 23 groups participate in the SFI program and together represent the management of more than 4 million acres of forested land. The participating organizations also work together across the state to communicate with other landowners, logging contractors, government agencies and conservation groups about improving forestry practices in Georgia.
Through participation in the SFI program, the periodic harvest of trees on our property leads to the overall ecological improvement of the land, provides a variety of demonstration/educational sites, provides forest products for the marketplace and allows us to work with nature to ensure the health of our forestlands for future generations.
The SFI program is based on the following principles that integrate the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil and water quality:
- Broaden the practice of sustainable forestry to all forest ownerships
- Ensure long-term forest productivity and conservation of forest resources
- Protect water quality in streams and lakes
- Protect wildlife habitats and contribute to biodiversity conservation
- Manage the visual impacts of harvesting
- Protect special sites of ecologic, geologic and historic significance
- Promote the efficient use of forest resources
- Encourage the use of SFI practices by forest landowners, foresters and wood producers
- Publicly report on progress in fulfilling commitment to sustainable forestry
- Provide opportunities for the public to learn more about sustainable forestry concepts
- Promote continual improvement in the practice of sustainable forestry
Visit www.aboutsfi.org to learn more about sustainable forestry.
The Preserve at Callaway Gardens is dedicated to creating quality habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. Animals require appropriate sources of food, water, shelter and a place to raise young in order to thrive. Some of our current wildlife habitat improvement projects include:
Chimney Swift Tower: Chimney swifts are neo-tropical migrants that spend their winters in South America and return to temperate climates to raise their young. These birds will nest and roost in masonry chimneys or chimney-like towers. The towers on The Preserve are constructed of T-1-11 plywood, stand 12 feet tall, measure 16 x 16 inches square and are open at the top. Swifts fly in the top of the tower and build a nest towards the bottom of the structure. Their nests are made of twigs cemented together with their glue-like saliva and adhered to the inside wall of the tower. One pair of birds will nest in the tower each season, but hundreds of birds may roost in the towers at night during spring and fall migration. Funding for the two towers at Callaway was graciously donated by the family of Gwyn Wilbanks.
Barn Owl Hacking Project: Working in partnership with the Southeastern Raptor Research Center at Auburn University, Preserve staff reintroduced four young barn owls to the wild. The young owls were placed in a large outdoor cage called a hacking tower. They were fed daily, and when they were matured enough, the door to the tower was opened, allowing them to come and go at will. We continued to provide food for them until they no longer returned to the tower.
Bluebird Nesting Box Monitoring: During the nesting season (March-August), Preserve staff and a team of dedicated Callaway volunteers monitor more than 110 bluebird nesting boxes located across The Preserve and in the Gardens. At the end of the nesting season the data is analyzed to help us gauge the number of young bluebirds that were produced. Virginia Callaway launched the bluebird nesting box program here years ago to help increase the population of these beautiful songbirds in this region.
Timber Harvest: The Preserve periodically harvests timber to enhance the forest’s health and provide a revenue stream which helps support the overall conservation and education mission of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation. Our staff forester carefully selects and marks every tree to be cut.
American Chestnut Seed Orchard: The American chestnut was once one of the most important trees in forests from Maine to Georgia. In 1904 the chestnut blight, an Asian fungus which is very lethal to our native chestnuts, began aggressively killing trees. During the next 50 years, the American chestnut trees on millions of acres across the eastern U.S. perished. The American Chestnut Foundation is committed to finding, breeding and growing trees resistant to the blight and restoring this important species to eastern forests. The Preserve at Callaway Gardens is working in partnership with the Georgia Chapter of the American Chestnut Society on developing blight resistant trees. The Preserve is currently growing out potentially blight-resistant seeds in an orchard setting on the property.
Annual Bird Surveys: Callaway Gardens staff, volunteers, and university faculty and students conduct a variety of bird surveys across the property annually. Surveys conducted include breeding bird surveys, spring and fall migration surveys, and winter resident surveys. Survey points and walking routes are located in various habitat types ranging from hardwood interior forests to early successional open fields. Data from these surveys are used to locate areas of greater avifauna richness and aid in habitat management decisions.
Mammal Scent Station Surveys: Scent stations have been set up across The Preserve to investigate mammal populations on the property. More specifically, the goals of this study are to determine the diversity, relative abundance and population trends of mesomammal (medium-sized mammal) populations on The Preserve. Species most often encountered include coyote, gray fox, raccoon, opossum and armadillo. Results from this study aid in the understanding of natural fluctuations in mesomammal populations.
Stream Monitoring: The Preserve has four monitoring sites enrolled in the statewide Adopt-A-Stream program. This program, run by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, promotes “citizen science” in an effort to monitor water bodies across the state. By involving citizens in stream monitoring, they not only provide valuable data to the state; they also become more aware of how their actions impact the earth and act as educators in their communities. Callaway volunteers help carry out chemical tests, biological surveys and visual surveys of streams on the property. Consistently monitoring the streams on the property can tell us a lot about the watershed as a whole. The effects of poor land stewardship often show up in nearby streams as low species diversity, siltation or a number of other systematic problems. Thanks to responsible land management on The Preserve, the stream indices consistently indicate good to excellent water quality. For more information on the Adopt-A-Stream program, visit www.georgiaadoptastream.org.