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DNR News

August 3, 2012

Land management activities underway at McCormick County wildlife area

Selective timber harvests, longleaf pine planting, and prescribed burning will improve wildlife habitat at James L. Mason Wildlife Management Area in southern McCormick County, say state wildlife officials.

James L. Mason Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 1,999-acre tract owned and managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Savannah River borders Mason WMA in two locations for a total of more than one mile of river frontage. The tract is dominated by mature loblolly pine and shortleaf pine in the uplands, mixed pine-hardwood along hillsides, and hardwood along the creeks and river. The topography is generally gently rolling; however, slopes in many locations are surprisingly steep. Mason WMA provides a distinctive blend of coastal plain and mountain scenery that is characteristic of the piedmont.

Cory Drennan, DNR wildlife biologist stationed in Abbeville, said selective timber harvests are being used to improve habitat conditions on Mason WMA. Since 1997, 725 acres of upland pine sites have been selectively thinned and 140 acres have been clear-cut. Of the 140 clear-cut acres, 75 acres have been replanted to longleaf pine.

“Although longleaf is now virtually non-existent in McCormick County, Mason WMA lies along the fringe of the longleaf’s expansive historic range,” Drennan said. “Sites that likely once harbored longleaf will be gradually converted to the native longleaf pine and maintained with frequent prescribed fires.”

The longleaf pine-grassland ecosystem formerly dominated more than 90 million acres across the South, according to Drennan, yet today less than 3 percent of its once seemingly infinite and inexhaustible historic range still exists. Land-use changes such as urban build-up, expansive cropland, fire suppression, and managing for short-rotation loblolly and slash pine have all but decimated the park-like landscape of longleaf pine. The longleaf pine-grassland ecosystem is among the most biologically diverse yet most imperiled ecosystems outside of tropical rain forests.

At one time, Drennan said, the Southern landscape naturally burned—frequently. Lightning-ignited fires burned millions of acres annually, and Native Americans burned millions more. There is no doubt fire played a major role in shaping South Carolina’s landscape. Today, in the absence of natural fires, land stewards use prescribed fire in an attempt to mimic what once naturally occurred. Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy have noted that “Prescribed fire is as important as sunlight, air, and rain for southern pine forests.”

“Prescribed burning is one of the most effective and cost-efficient management tools available,” Drennan said. Properly planned and executed prescribed burns can reduce wildfire hazard, tree disease, insect infestation, undesirable competition, and improve wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and accessibility.

Selected areas on the Mason WMA will be prescribed burned about every three years, although some areas may be burned more or less frequently dependent upon the desired results. Most burning is conducted after deer season and before turkey season; however, growing season burns from April through September will be used as necessary to improve habitat conditions.

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