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Wells Fargo, the manager of the trust for the former owner, is conducting a thinning operation at the park. Many timber harvests can look harsh at first, but within a year or so the site will have recovered substantially, growing over with grasses and other beneficial plants. The new growth will support wildlife even better than before, because the vegetation will be much more diverse - and diverse wildlife species will take advantage of the new growth.
The majority of the work at Laurel Hill is “thinning” the pine forest. Thinning simply reduces the amount of wood in the forest to healthier and safer levels. For example, much of the area being thinned currently has around 150 square feet per acre of woody biomass. This work will reduce the amount of woody biomass to 60-70 square feet per acre.
At our request, the loggers will clear cut a 2.5-acre area west of the allée of oaks. We plan to ultimately remove the stumps, grade and grow grass there, so that we can park cars away from the historic allée of oaks. We currently have to park cars in the allée, and driving near the grand oaks can shorten the life of the trees. We believe this to be the most responsible land stewardship decision.
The initial thinning/timber harvest was for the southern half of the park, but the northern half of the park is also due for active management. If weather allows, the loggers will soon shift to that area. We have also asked Wells Fargo to direct the loggers to clear some additional areas, which will be strategically re-planted with loblolly pine, longleaf pine, and mast-producing hardwoods and fruit trees. The replanting effort will provide educational opportunities and improve wildlife habitat and food availability.
It is standard for logging activities to do some damage to roads, due to the weight of the trucks when fully loaded. We will work with Wells Fargo at the appropriate time to restore the roads/trails to their pre-thinning condition. The good news is that the log trucks are not being turned around in the oak allée, but further down the road. Turning trucks around in the oak allée would do irreparable damage to the root systems of the historic trees.
We will not receive the proceeds from the thinning (in accordance with our agreement with Wells Fargo), however we are working with Wells Fargo on jointly funding future land management-related improvements within Laurel Hill County Park. This timber harvest is the catalyst for such work - work that will ultimately seek to diversify the plant composition of the landscape and provide educational opportunities for the public.
Reducing the amount of woody biomass in the forest is a very good thing as trees begin nearing what’s called the “stem exclusion” stage, where they actually start dying naturally because they’re out-competed by neighboring trees. Stem exclusion is not a desirable condition for a pine forest, and the presence of vines, suspended pine needles and standing dead timber is a potential fire safety hazard. CCPRC and the Trustee’s land managers want to keep the surrounding areas and residents safe from wildfire. The work being conducted at Laurel Hill County Park is one of a few management treatments we intend to implement to protect the park and the surrounding community.