Last week the USDA Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) announced that work is underway on the first wildlife habitat enhancement project in western North Carolina conducted under a first-of-its-kind agreement between the federal agency and a state agency.
This first project encompasses about 15 acres in an area known as “Catpen,” near Max Patch, a mountain bald with 360-degree scenic vistas. Catpen is near the North Carolina border in the Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest. Planning is underway for phase two of the Catpen Project, which will improve Max Patch Pond.
In phase one of the project, NCWRC employees are clearing away woody debris around native apple trees to open up a young forest area. The goal is to increase wildlife food sources such as apples and acorns.
“The Catpen Project will benefit deer, turkey, grouse, bears, neotropical songbirds and other species,” said Gordon Warburton, NCWRC regional supervisor for Western North Carolina.
Young forests, which provide habitat for numerous wildlife species, have declined in the Southern Appalachians.
The Wildlife Commission is providing the equipment, staff and technical expertise for this and other projects implemented under the master agreement. The Commission is working closely with Forest Service biologists to maximize the benefits of these wildlife projects. The projects employ some local workers and use locally purchased materials and supplies. The agencies will also contract with small businesses on the stewardship projects.
The Catpen Project meets objectives in the Pisgah National Forest land and resource management plan. The efforts will also contribute to goals under the NCWRC Wildlife Action Plan. The project is made possible by stewardship contracting authority, provided by Congress for the Forest Service until 2013.
Earlier this year, the National Forests in North Carolina and NCWRC signed the master stewardship agreement that includes this project. Subsequent projects will improve wildlife habitat by establishing important grassy and brushy areas for nesting and cover. The projects will improve the health and vigor of oak species and create other special or priority habitats. Other project areas may include the Cheoah and Nantahala Ranger Districts in the Nantahala National Forest as well as the Uwharrie National Forest.
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