Starting this week, 55 acres of an invasive stand of sweet gum trees were mulched in preparation for planting a variety of hardwoods this coming winter.
Funding for the forestry work in the bottomland is being provided by several partners. Part of the $88,000 grant from the American Electric Power Company Foundation (parent of local SWEPCO) which was awarded in 2008 to the Gilmer ISD Foundation, will be used.
These dollars will also be leveraged, serving as required match for an agreement providing $25,000 for hardwood habitat enhancement through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Regional cooperators providing technical expertise include Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Forest Service and Texas AgriLife Extension.
The purpose of the bottomland project is to restore and enhance sustainable hardwood forest acres, to be more like a native stand that would have been commonly found in East Texas floodplains many years ago.
These lands are becoming much more rare in Texas, and they are critical to the survival of many wildlife species. GISD’s bottomland project site shares a boundary with the City of Gilmer’s mitigation land (approximately 1,050 acres), set aside when Lake Gilmer was developed—providing for a larger habitat corridor.
Phase one for work in the bottomland is site preparation, including mulching by contractor Silva-Tech South, Ltd, out of Center.
Roller chopping will likely be done in other sections of the bottomland as well. The forestry site preparation mulcher is a large heavy piece of equipment that moves quickly through the invasive stand of Sweet Gum, spitting debris out several hundred feet in front and behind, and grinding up the branches and trunks, leaving stumps and chunky mulch behind.
The roots will still be alive and active, so the next step will be applying herbicide to the regrowth in the late summer. Hand planting the desirable hardwood species will follow in the winter, while seedlings are dormant.
Dense mature stands as well as areas along creeks and fence-lines with more mature trees will be left to grow.
The 160 acres is part of a 333 acre tract of land that was purchased by GISD for the new elementary campus. According to resource agency personnel, the larger tract features a sampling of all the landscapes of East Texas — bottomland, transitional zones and uplands.
Most forested and some open with meadow. Most of the areas on the property need improvement, which makes partnerships to help provide technical expertise and funding, critical to moving forward. Areas near the campuses will be set aside for field experiences for the students.