Cherokee Foothills 2 JCLRP Team. Credit: Georgia Forestry Commission

Topic: Collaboration Communications / Outreach Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

Cherokee Foothills Fire Adapted Landscape Restoration Project

Authors: Frank Riley Jr.

In late 2015 a partnership was organized in northeast Georgia and northwest South Carolina to develop a proposal for the Two Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership. The proposal, named the Cherokee Foothills Fire Adapted Landscape Restoration Project (CFFALRP), is the result of multiple federal, state and non-governmental partners (including the Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D) working together in an area that includes a good deal of land managed by the USDA Forest Service.

The purpose of the CFFALRP is to help reduce hazardous fuels while promoting native species restoration on a fire-adapted landscape. Partners proposed expanding capacity within the landscape to: restore forest health, reduce fuel loads, improve habitat for at-risk species and create educational and outreach programs such as Firewise and Ready-Set-Go and management plans for private citizens living in the wildland-urban interface. The proposed project would build off of the work being accomplished through the Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network and our FAC work in Georgia.

Project Area

CFFALRP organizations share a goal to enhance and preserve the area’s natural resources for present and future generations, and keep citizens safe from uncontrolled wildfires. The project area is best described as a transitional zone between the southern Appalachian piedmont and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The project boundary was delineated by adding a 10-mile-wide buffer around the areas encompassing the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia and the Andrew Pickens Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina.

fire adapted landscape

Cherokee Foothills LRP Footprint. Credit: Chestatee-Chattahoochee RC&D

This project area includes approximately 877,000 acres of protected lands, of which 88 percent are USDA Forest Service lands and the remaining 12 percent are either state-owned or private conservation easements. Within this landscape, numerous upland ridges and south-facing woodland slopes are embedded in a larger mesic hardwood forest matrix. Private inholdings are scattered throughout the landscape. Shortleaf pine, pitch pine and numerous oak forest types dominate this landscape; however, these species are slowly being replaced by less desirable yellow poplar, red maple, white pine and mountain laurel resulting in reduced species diversity largely due to fire suppression. In addition, the resulting high fuel loads and subsequent risk of uncontrollable wildfire threaten many WUI communities.
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Through past collaborative efforts, overall public acceptance and support of the role and importance of fire in this landscape has increased over the last decade. Active collaboration has led to a gradual increase in prescribed burning on protected lands within the project area. An “all-lands” approach is being utilized to allow partners to burn at a landscape scale, which is reducing risk and cost to participating landowners. In addition, the development of Firewise communities raises the public’s awareness of the threats of wildfire within the WUI.

Funding for On-the-Ground Treatments

Our proposal was successful; however, the majority of funding for 2016 was directed toward fuel reduction, and the educational and management planning actions were not funded. The CFFALRP partners consider even the reduced funding in 2016 as a big win considering that this was the first time anyone in the group had worked on a project such as this, and it had a very short turn-around from developing the initial plans to the final submission in late 2015.

FAC outreach goes hand-in-hand with the fuel mitigation and habitat enhancement efforts, and plans are to propose additional funding for the educational component in 2017. Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D has developed FAC outreach materials in the CFFALRP area that will be used to complement the mitigation efforts until more funding becomes available.

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