Donald Imm, Georgia Ecological Services Field Supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service, called the acquisition of the rattleweed tract “a huge step” toward the eventual recovery of the “highly endemic and federally protected plant, as well as a significant acquisition for other at-risk species associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem in the area.” “The service is thankful to all of the partners that allowed this and other conservation efforts to succeed,” Imm said.
Endemic to longleaf pine ecosystems and named for the cobweb-like hairs that cover its stems, hairy rattleweed is a critically imperiled species that has shown significant population declines over the last 30 years. The former Rayonier property is considered a high-quality site for conservation because of its dense populations of hairy rattleweed and diverse native groundcover. DNR management including prescribed fire and timber thinning is planned to restore native longleaf-wiregrass communities and provide even more habitat for the plant. The property also has extensive wetlands, including a type that is declining nationally, plus habitat for the federally listed eastern indigo snake and value as a tract that could help link other south Georgia concentrations of conservation lands.
Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species because they dig burrows that provide shelter for approximately 350 other species, including eastern indigos. Georgia’s only native tortoise also is a focus of the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. This Georgia-based private-public partnership is working to conserve gopher tortoises and their habitats, and hopefully help prevent listing of the species under the Endangered Species Act in the eastern part of its range. The Hairy Rattleweed Protection Tract will contribute directly to these goals by protecting tortoises that already live on the property and restoring habitat for potential additional populations.
The Moody Forest addition, located along the Altamaha near Baxley, contributes to one of the most significant river corridor conservation projects in the country. Participants include private landowners, conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and the military.
The largest free-flowing river on the East Coast, the Altamaha flows 137 miles across southeast Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean, meandering through longleaf pine forests and cypress swamps and feeding into saltwater estuaries. Formed by the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, the Altamaha drains about one quarter of the state of Georgia.
Founded in 1974, OSI has grown to become a partner in the protection of nearly 2.2 million along the eastern seaboard from Quebec to Florida — including over 100,000 acres in the Southeastern U.S.