||The Sumter National Forest was acquired in the early 1930s under the Weeks Law of 1911 to provide sustained timber and water resources. Most areas were logged, overfarmed, eroded, and nutrient depleted to the extent that soil productivity was impaired. The practices
accelerated surface erosion and gully formation and removed many native grasses from the area. Watershed characteristics were improved on many barren lands by planting loblolly pine trees. Recovery from erosion was slow until the needle cast from pine trees provided ground cover. In intermediate pine stands, needle cast provided ample soil cover and erosion control, but the needles limited the development of understory vegetation and surface soil.
Revegetation with grasses has been a regular part of treating actively eroding and barren lands. Until recently, the less expensive and effective nonnative species were commonly used. Commonly used grasses have included sericea lespedeza, fescue, bahia, orchard, and bermuda. Clover, brown top millet, oats, wheat, and other plants provide variety in the seed mixture for wildlife habitat purposes. Some of the grasses used in the past are nonnative species with some
invasive or persistent characteristics. Recent and ongoing efforts have encouraged the development of native plant species for erosion control and soil-building purposes. From the limited field trials, the native plants thrived through several years of drought, while nonnative grass cover had substantial mortality. Recent forest activities are focusing on the thinning of forest stands to improve forest health and habitats. Opening the forest stands to sunlight and low- to moderate-intensity prescribed fire encourages the reintroduction of native grasses. Native plants with their greater
root densities are desirable for soil improvement based on their resiliency to drought, nutrient deficient soils, and fire. These conditions are common within the Piedmont forest. The National Forest has cooperated with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service,
South Carolina Native Plant Society, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and Clemson University to implement the needed seed collection of local ecotypes and testing and planting fields for future harvests of several native plant species including little bluestem, big bluestem, splitbeard bluestem, bushy beard bluestem, purpletop, indiangrass, beggarweed, and partridge pea. Initial planting of some of the native grasses has shown some difficulty with
individual species such as big bluestem in regeneration, but generally we have found good results under greenhouse, plug planting, and broadcast sowing in selected areas.