Technical Updates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024
Forestry On The Mooove

By: Thomas Kain

The Bronson Forest is found between the Edisto River and Interstate 26 in South Carolina, which is within the largest intact coastal ecosystems on the East Coast, a 450,000-acre watershed. The Bronson Forest is also a Milliken Advisors FSC Forest Management group member. The staff of the Bronson Forest, in conjunction with Milliken foresters, are working hard to develop a showcase for multiple-use forestry operations and conservation.

Bronson Forest contains 6,200 acres of longleaf pine. Longleaf pine thrives with frequent fire. Various plants and animals have evolved to thrive on the frequent fire return interval. It is also home to one of the largest colonies of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Forest managers are finding it increasingly more difficult to conduct controlled burns at the desired frequency to maintain the ecosystem due to fewer acceptable burn days.

Smoke management is a major concern for controlled fire managers during the burn planning process. If burn climatic conditions are incorrect, the smoke could blow or settle on a county road or drift into a nearby community. This exposes the burn managers to potential liability issues. Burn managers, therefore, use the latest tools to forecast weather conditions. Sometimes, an area may need to be skipped for a year or two if the desired burn conditions are unavailable. This leads to a situation where the fuel loads are higher than desired, making the controlled burn even more challenging to find an acceptable burn window. Burn managers are looking for new solutions to control the vegetation between burns.

Bronson Forest combines GPS technology, geofencing, and Pineywood cattle to reduce fuel loads. Pineywood cattle are a very special breed, having survived and adapted without human interference since being introduced to America in 1521 by explorer Ponce De Leon. This breed is mild-tempered, tough, and a hearty scrubland animal that requires little veterinary care or special watering areas. They do not need grass pastures to thrive. Instead, they eat honeysuckle, brush, and grass. Pineywoods is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in America.

The Pineywood cattle at Bronson are fitted with GPS collars that allow the land manager to define and contain the herd within a specific area. They are trained in a ten-acre holding area that is surrounded by an electric fence. The GPS device sets off an audible tone as the animals approach the fence. If the cattle touch the fence, they get a shock. These intelligent animals associate the audible tone with the electric shock from the fence. Once trained, the Pineywood cattle can be removed from the electric fence area and released into the timber. The farm manager then creates a geofence to define the area the Pineywood cattle can graze. As the cattle approach the geofence, the GPS collar emits a tone that stops the animals from moving further. The goal is to use the cattle to reduce the fuel load in between controlled burns.

The Bronson Forest Pineywood cattle are just one example of how an alternate method of vegetation control can be used to achieve resource management objectives. This project is still in the early study phases, but the results are promising. This project is also helping to increase the number of America's oldest breed of cattle, allowing them to wander and graze the woods of the American South as they have since 1521.