NASF Photo Fellow: Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest

By Leslie Robertson
NASF Photo Fellow

Today was an extremely full, productive day. Chelsea Ealum, communications and public relations coordinator (and my companion for the week), and I headed over to the Blackwater River Florida Forest Service (FFS) headquarters.

We met with Tabatha Kelly Merkley, FFS Forestry Resource Administrator, who went over what we would be seeing and introduced us to the other FFS employees who would be joining us. We also met Gene Wishum and Jesse Goyer, Park Service Specialists, and Eric Howell, a Forestry Supervisor II. Also along for the trip were two representatives from the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Ricky Lackey and Derek Alkire.

I was happy to have a chance to say hi to Mike Hudson, FFS Blackwater District Manager, who was so kind to pick me up from the airport yesterday and answer my many questions about the FFS and forestry in Florida. For example, did you know that Florida is one of the top places in the world for number of lightning strikes? Very cool.

Our first stop was at a young longleaf pine plantation, which had been planted in the winters of 2012 and 2013. The NWTF helped in funding 1,200 acres of longleaf pine restoration, which is one of the larger projects the FFS and NWTF have worked on together. The longleaf pine, besides being native to the area and very desirable, provides an essential ecosystem for the turkey and other wildlife to live in. 

Next on the agenda was a forest inventory site of mixed longleaf and slash. Gene and Jesse went to work, using many different types of instruments to inventory the area. I got some great shots of them using the loggers tape (measures circumference of the tree), prism (measures forest density), clinometer (measures height of the tree), and increment borer (takes a sample to record the tree’s age).

This was an actual site they needed to inventory, and they were so efficient that I had to ask them redo a few things to get the shots I wanted! Taking inventories help the FFS determine trees per acre, tree mortality rate, and when to do a prescribed burn to maintain a healthy forest.

Stops three and four were logging and chipping sites, respectively. I was able to watch a loader, skidder, and feller buncher in action and follow Eric on a short inspection of the site. I learned that someone from the FFS will generally check on logging sites daily to ensure they are following the correct guidelines; for example, he showed me examples of tree stumps that were cut correctly, not too tall, not too short. The harvested wood was headed to Alabama as pulpwood. 

The chipping site was a one-man show; the operator was sitting in a hydraulic excavator with a forestry attachment and had a remote controlled fuel wood chipper. Seeing such a big machine move around seemingly on its own was something I have never seen before. The wood debris being chipped was being turned into mulch for a biofuel application to run the boilers of a paper mill and would have otherwise been wasted.

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