Part 2 New Warms Springs, James River District Ranger
On first meeting Elizabeth McCutchoen, the new district ranger for the Warms Springs and James River Districts of the National Forest, I thought, there are far to many questions to ask her to fit into some short news segments. So what we focused on for these last two parts of her introductory set, were “What is one of the success stories she remembers best?”and “What does she hope to achieve on the George Washington Jefferson National Forest?”
When describing her previous position, Elizabeth had mentioned being responsible for NEPA, and I needed a reminder of exactly what that is.
“NEPA stands for the National Environmental Policy Act, and, so it’s a law. And any time that we do anything that is on the ground, we need to analyze it for effects. And even adding, putting in a new road, any kind of earth disturbing activities, even in recreation sites, or a new trailhead. If we were going to do anything ground disturbing, we would have to analyze it for effects. And that’s for effects to water, wildlife, soils, the whole ecosystem we evaluate, so it’s a pretty intense program, and it takes a lot of effort by all our staff.”
The documentation of those effects can help correct the loss or imbalance. Elizabeth McCutcheon described one of the success stories in which she was a team leader that is especially rewarding to remember.
“Not long ago, when I left the Huron-Manistee, we had an endangered Kirtland warbler. The numbers had gotten very, very low. It wasn’t a sustainable population, and this year when I left it was taken off the endangered species list, and that was an exciting thing to be a part of because it wasn’t just the Forest Service working with the state of Michigan, working with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Just a lot of research went into it, and then creating habitat. Basically the Kirtland Warbler is a fire dependent species, and fires use to roll through Michigan on a ten to fifteen year rotation in the sand plains. And so this little bird is dependent on a species called Jack Pine. The cones actually open up when the fire goes through, and it seeds the area, and then you get a flush of new growth of these Jack pine trees. And they like to nest under these young trees.”
“Well, you know Smokey Bear did a great job of telling people, you know, “Fire is bad; don’t have fire.” So fire-fighting for years and years, we stopped creating this Jack Pine habitat. And then the population dropped really low. And then so we couldn’t just let, you know fires go, so instead of the fires we tried to emulate it by doing large clear cuts, and planting jack pine trees really close together. And then there were fires, wildfires that created habitat also. So between the program of planting jack pine plus the natural habitat that was created due to wildfires, the population was way over what the goal was, and the numbers are going up all the time. And so, that’s why the species went off the endangered species list this year.” Knowing that we have our own endangered species on this forest, the Indiana Bat, the James Spiny Mussel, and the Shale Barren Rock Cress to name a few, I wondered what it would take to stabilize those populations. In the last part of this collection of news pieces, we’ll look at some hopes the new district ranger has for residents of the Allegheny Highlands and visitors, to help the forest, and ask her to return regularly for reports on our forests and the species who live there.