Poarch Band of Creek Indians recognized for forestry achievements | Environment
AUBURN, AL - The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI) recently received the Helene Mosley Memorial TREASURE Forest Award for the South Region at the Alabama Natural Resources Council’s Awards Banquet, in Auburn, Alabama.
This event recognizes forest owners who have shown exemplary dedication to the wise stewardship of natural resources. Dr. James Shepard, Auburn University Dean and Professor of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences presented James W. (Billy) Smith, PBCI Tribal Elder and Manager of the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve (MBWR); and Keith Martin, Tribal Council Member, with a plaque, a certificate, and a limited edition painting.
The PBCI have earned many honors for their forest stewardship. In June 2010, they received three prestigious awards for forest management activities at MBWR: the Alabama Natural Resources Council’s TREASURE Forest Award and certifications for the Forest Stewardship and the American Tree Farm Programs. This was the first time that a landowner had received all three recognitions at the same time.
MBWR is mostly timberland and is used as a recreational area for the Tribe and their guests. By working with various state and federal agencies, the Tribe has sustained, protected, and enhanced 6,000 acres of timberland and 50 lakes. The PBCI partnered with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to secure financial and technical assistance for site preparation on about 800 acres planted to longleaf pine, and to install permanent firebreaks and prescribe burn over 2,000 acres of pine plantation.
“Managing for timber is vital to our long-term forest goals. Seventy percent of our forest land is loblolly and 30 percent has been converted to longleaf pine,” said Billy Smith, PBCI Tribal Elder and Manager of the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve. “Whenever we clear-cut an area of loblolly, we plant it back to longleaf pine. Right now we have planted about 800,000 longleaf pines on Tribal land.”
Prescribed burning plays an important role in the longleaf pine ecosystem. It helps control disease and reduces competition of undesirable understory. It also provides wildlife habitat benefits by stimulating the growth of native plants for wildlife food.
“We are on a two year burn cycle and try to burn about 2,000 acres each year,” Smith said.
The wildlife accomplishments include planting 37 acres of food plots to cool and warm season forages, building numerous wood duck boxes and bird houses, and thinning 2,000 acres to improve wildlife habitat.
They are attempting to reestablish native grasses. “After clearing the understory through a controlled burn, we are seeing the comeback of native grasses that have been here all along,” said Smith.
The Helene Mosley Memorial TREASURE Forest Award promotes forestry through education. David Elliott, NRCS Tribal Liaison, said, “One of the opportunities that the PBCI provide is educational activities. Through partnerships with the Alabama Forestry Commission, Longleaf Alliance, USFWS, NRCS, and other agencies, the Tribe hosts tours that promote best management practices, and good forestry and wildlife management.”
Smith added, “One thing we are proud to offer our Tribe and the public is the pristine Big Escambia Creek. We own 12-14 miles of the creek bank, so we are able to control a lot of what goes on along the banks, which includes the MBWR.”
They often cater to Boy Scouts, churches, and other groups who wish to reserve the area. The MBWR offers canoeing, kayaking, tubing, zip lines, horseback trails, birding, and camping. They have a campground with 82 camp sites - 49 with full hookups and others with only power and water. Smith said they also offer boon dock camping, which is primitive camping in the more remote areas of MBWR.
Smith is proud of the outdoor activities they make available to the younger generations. He said, “Almost everything we do targets the young people. I feel like we can’t do enough for them. I want to get them out into the woods to walk and enjoy a little bit of the outside. If we can help just one kid by bringing them to MBWR to spend some time in the woods, then we have accomplished a lot.”
MBWR is home to the PBCI box turtle habitat program. They have a penned spot where they put the box turtles to acclimate to the area and then turn them loose. They use the box turtles as educational tools by taking and showing them to groups to demonstrate what they are doing to help them.
INFORMATION SOURCE: USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service
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