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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Historic savanna of the Cumberland Plateau
Year: 2010
Author(s): Coffey, C.
Source Title:
Source Type: Proceedings
pages: 70
Original Publication:  
Abstract: Oak savannas and woodlands represent some of the rarest ecological community types occurring in Tennessee. From what was described by explorers and settlers years ago as “vast and expansive,” these communities have all but disappeared from the Tennessee landscape. Disappearance of these communities has had a negative effect on both floral and faunal diversity in our state. Beginning in 1999, restoration of oak savannas and woodlands was initiated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) on the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County following timber salvage operations responding to an historic outbreak of southern pine beetle, which killed Virginia, shortleaf, and loblolly pines throughout Catoosa and across the Cumberland Plateau. After pine salvage operations were underway, prescribed fire was used to remove the litter layer and allow the existing plant community to thrive with adequate sunlight. The response by grasses and forbs to the removal of trees and reintroduction of fire on Catoosa was dramatic. However, the savanna and woodland communities that developed were not surprising, particularly after studying the history of the Cumberland Plateau. Longhunters and explorers traveling throughout the Cumberlands noted bison and elk in expansive grassy openings across the region. Early travelers also described fires and evidence of fires set by Native Americans. The use of fire was continued by early settlers on the Plateau to increase and rejuvenate grasses and forbs for free-ranging livestock. In fact, Cumberland County was one of the top cattle-producing counties in the state through the late nineteenth century. Free‐range practices continued in Cumberland County until 1947. The fires that occurred throughout the Plateau region served to promote native grasses and forbs and, on some sites, shortleaf pine, a fire‐tolerant species.
Publisher: Proceedings of the Seventh Eastern Native Grass Symposium. Knoxville, TN, October 5-8, 2010
Editor(s): C. Harper