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Catawba College Environmental Students Help Preserve Uwharrie Longleaf Pine

February 06, 2013

Category: Academics, Biology, Environmental Science, Students


PhotoCatawba College Environmental Science and Sustainable Business students greeted the cold and clear first day of February by assisting the N.C. Zoological Park in management of a significant tract of longleaf pine in the Uwharrie region of northern Montgomery County.

The Nichols Tract, a 116-acre property containing one of the finest examples of a piedmont longleaf pine community in North Carolina, was recently purchased by the N.C. Zoological Park and Salisbury's Land Trust for Central North Carolina.

The 17 Catawba students who participated in the work day were part of a Natural Resource Management and Ecology Course taught by Catawba Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Jay Bolin. The trip to the Nichols Tract was an opportunity for them to apply what they were learning in the classroom.

"It's just great to be out here. I could do this all semester," said Ben Botkins of Denver, a junior majoring in Environmental Science.

The students were led by the N.C. Zoological Park's botanist, Nell Allen. They assisted her team with preparing the magnificent mature longleaf for a prescribed burn scheduled for this winter.

StudentsSome of the longleaf pine trees bore historic scars from North Carolina's famous turpentine industry. These scars are known as "boxes" from which sap was harvested for the naval stores industry. Students recorded GPS coordinates, size information, and other metrics about each stately tree.

Because fire has been largely suppressed at the Nichols Tract, a serious problem for a fire adapted tree and community, a very thick layer of duff and bark had accumulated around each 'long straw' pine. In addition to preventing seedlings of longleaf from establishing, the thick duff layer can create very intense fire conditions. Thus, as well as recording data, Catawba students carefully raked away the surface duff from each trunk to improve its chances of survival in future prescribed burns.

In all, 88 of the largest trees were measured, GPS-ed, flagged, and raked around. After the prescribed fire in the coming month, Bolin's class intends to return to see the effects of the fire and their efforts.

"In ten years, I can't wait to see what this place looks like," remarked Sydney Byerly of Lexington, a junior Environmental Science major.

Bolin noted that if the first few prescribed fires at the Nichols Tract are effective, Byerly and other students in the class may not need to wait that long to see the return of an iconic North Carolina forest community.


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