SREL Reprint #0079

 

 

 

The Population Status of the Larger Vertebrates on the Atomic Energy Commission Savannah River Plant Site

J. H. Jenkins and E. E. Provost

 

Summary

In general, as might be expected, all important wildlife species with the exception of the wild turkey have shown rapid increases following land abandonment and the protection against trespass on the SRP area.  Quail have reached an all time high in population which, surprisingly, has held up well after the "peak" habitat conditions were reached and passed, although a decline in the near future seems inevitable. The carnivores showed an immediate upswing and then declined to a stable "steady-state" population.  Beavers are steadily increasing and will probably exert some negative effects on the forestry program, and may become troublesome in certain streams or canals used in the production complex at the SRP.  Control is relatively simple if this appears feasible or necessary.  Feral dogs have not increased markedly on the area but their populations should be monitored due to the potentialities of rabies.  Hogs have shown some increase but the control measures (trapping) have minimized damage problems.  The deer have shown a steady increase from a condition of near extirpation to a population of well over a thousand on the area. They may or may not show a population "explosion" so typical of other sections of North America.  Calcium, phosphorus, and proteins are low on the natural ranges of the southeastern coastal plain and reproduction in range cattle has always been low, in this area.  Undoubtedly deer populations will eventually pose a safety problem.

It may be well at this time to give serious consideration to the recreation possibilities of the natural biota of this area. This, of course, raises serious problems of security and safety which must be decided at the highest administrative levels.  However, with adequate planning some of the perimeter areas could perhaps be used to provide excellent pond fishing, quail, dove, rabbit, squirrel, crow, hog, and deer hunting. This would have to be done strictly on a permit basis, possibly through the formation of a club. To handle this efficiently and to maintain this recreation potential would require the services of a professional wildlife manager.  A policy board representing all of the interests involved might guide and appraise the program. At present, the quail populations are not being harvested and the area is rapidly becoming too brushy to support pleasant quail hunting. Sport hunters could be utilized to keep the hog and deer populations in check.

Since fire has long been recognized as a natural factor in maintaining (along with immature soils) the pinelands sub-climax so typical of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, perhaps some discussion of this potent two-edged tool is in order. Grazers and wildlife managers have traditionally used fire, usually with good results, to increase grazing capacity and wildlife food and cover. In the past, foresters have opposed the use of fire. Today, however, there is little or no conflict of viewpoint on this subject as more and more facts have been accumulated. Field land managers in this region recognize that uncontrolled fires can be, and often are, destructive to the timber resource, man’s installations, and wildlife (at least temporarily). The most disastrous fires from a wildlife management standpoint are hot summer burns. These fires destroy nesting cover, nests, and the young of both birds and mammals. They are occasionally prescribed in forest practices for hardwood control, particularly on sandhill oak scrub areas. Fortunately, this is a rare recommendation.

On the other hand, prescribed late winter burning of pinelands in the coastal plain during damp or wet conditions can be highly beneficial to wildlife. Winter burning is used in forestry for natural seedbed preparation, brown spot disease control, release of longleaf seedlings, and elimination of "rough” to aid in the control of wild fire.

The underlying key to raising the carrying capacity for quail and turkeys in the coastal plain is prescribed winter burning combined with covert management as developed by Stoddard (1931). This consists essentially of using fire in the late winter under damp conditions to move back succession in the pinelands and to preserve small "room-sized" natural coverts at closely spaced intervals. This means that small coverts, approximately 40 feet in diameter, are ringed with a wide firebreak before the "cold fire" treatment. Often, part of these firebreaks are planted with Kobe lespedeza. Burning gets rid of under-growth, making the habitat much more suitable for quail and turkeys. It also increases the germination and subsequent growth of legumes. The forage plants following prescribed winter burning have been shown to be higher in protein, calcium, and phosphorus. Total yield is also increased.

The total protection of the SRP against fires will gradually lower the carrying capacity of the area for quail, turkey, rabbits, and possibly deer. There can be little doubt of this trend, particularly when it is combined with a total lack of agricultural development, the elimination of openings, and the substitution of thousands of acres of pine plantations (which some naturalists have referred to as biological deserts) for the mixed habitat types now on the site (Fig. 17, p. 42). However, the SRP is very large and if a policy is adopted to encourage wildlife, a professional wildlife manager could reverse these trends easily without in any way interfering with the forestry program.

Whether the above suggestions can be fitted into the primary land. use is a moot question. From a completely unbiased scientific viewpoint it must be admitted that the SRP is not located in a recreation deficient area as far as hunting and fishing are concerned. However each year these opportunities are steadily declining with increased land utilization, and the formation of private hunting and fishing club preserves.

Eventually the SRP might well be considered for development into a national park and/or recreation area (Fig. 18, p. 42). Certainly all land management should be planned to maintain the esthetic aspects of the area and to preserve a unique segment of southern fauna and flora which the area now possesses.

 

SREL Reprint #0079

Jenkins, J.H. and E.E. Provost. 1964. The population status of the larger vertebrates on the Atomic Energy Commission Savannah River Plant site. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Technical Information Division. TID 19562.

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