Restoring a lost ecosystem
Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a long narrow strip of land that lies between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky. This inland peninsula was formerly owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took over ownership, and LBL is now a National Recreation Area operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
Boating, fishing, camping, and hunting (in season) brings many visitors to LBL. LBL also has an elk and bison reserve, a telescope and a planetarium, an 1860's farm ("The Homeplace"), a nature center, historic sites, and more. There is a significant bald eagle population.
Oak-grasslands restoration planned
Two Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Area (OGRDA), are now being planned and developed. Over 8000 acres will be restored. One area will be located in Tennessee near The Homeplace and the other area will be in Kentucky near the elk and bison range.
When restoration is complete, the oak-grasslands will "create habitat for wildlife, improve forest health, and provide recreational and environmental education opportunities." This promise is quoted from an informational pamphlet published by the USDA Forest Service: Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
The open forests of the past
Today, the upland area included in Land Between The Lakes is mainly a dense, solid-canopied forest. It was not always so. According to old writings and other ecological evidence, the forest was much more open at the time Europeans came to the area. The canopy admitted enough sunlight that a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers covered the ground between and beneath the trees. Areas of open forest were interspersed with grasslands.
Fire was the primary agent that kept the forests open. The American Indians and early settlers deliberately burned the woods on a semi-regular basis.
How the oak-grasslands will be restored
In OGRDA, LBL will re-create the following pre-European conditions:
On upper slopes and ridges across the area, grasslands (less than 10 percent canopy closure) and open oak woodlands (10-60 percent canopy closure) are interspersed in variable mixtures. Understories are dominated by native grasses and wildflowers. Most mid- and lower-slopes support open oak forests (60-80 percent canopy closure), with understories containing regenerated oaks in sufficient numbers to provide for sustaining oak on these sites over time.
Source: PDF document: Abstract for an oral presentation, Tennessee Native Grasslands Workshop, January 24, 2007
First, the trees will be thinned to re-create an open woodland where grasses can flourish. Timber will be harvested with the goal of leaving behind scattered trees of various ages, especially oak and hickory trees. Some trees will be cut and left, to simulate the natural treefall that would occur in a oak-grassland.
Foresters will burn the oak-grassland areas on a regular schedule (every 2 to 12 years) to maintain the balance of trees, grasses, and other plants.
Benefits to plants, animals, and people
As the restoration procedes, it will help up to 40 species of native plants and animals that require a grasslands habitat.
These open conditions will benefit rare of declining species such as Barbed Rattlesnake Root, Barn Owl, Prairie Warbler, Northern Pine Snake and Northern Bobwhite Quail. Other species that will benefit include White-tail Deer, Fox Squirrel, and Wild Turkey.
Source: An informational pamphlet published by the USDA Forest Service: Oak-Grassland Restoration Demonstration Areas, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
It would be nice if a population of prairie chickens could be re-established in the OGRDA.
The White-tail Deer in LBL don't need any help, in my humble opinion. The area is overrun with them. At one campground where we spent several days, young deer lurked in the woods near the campsites, apparently hoping to find food. At night, big herds of deer milled around the picnic tables and restroom facilities beside the lake.
Hiking, birding, and interpretive trails through the oak-grasslands have been promised. The trails will be an excellent educational and recreational resource.
Partners of the Oak Grasslands Restoration Demonstration Area
The following agencies and organizations are working together on the LBL oak-grasslands restoration project:
- USDA Forest Service
- National Wild Turkey Federation
- The Nature Conservancy
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Quail Unlimited
- U.S. Fire Learning Network
- The Central Hardwoods Joint Venture
Read more about LBL and the oak-grasslands restoration
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (official website)
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (Wikipedia entry)
PDF document: A 2006 informational letter about the proposed oak-grasslands project in LBL