McLean Savanna

coleman unit burn

Our LOVE for fire.                                                                                                                           On Valentines Day we did a burn in a very special place, McLean Savanna.  McLean Savanna is located in Pender County adjacent to Holly Shelter Gamelands.  McLean is a new preserve for us, acquired in December 2008.  The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program boasts McLean Savanna to be one of the best examples of very rare Pine Savanna variant, which is known from only a few locations in the world.  McLean Savanna is home to 14 globally rare plant species, 2 of which are federally endangered.

massive smoke column from coleman unit burn

The ecosystem health at McLean Savanna is not great, fire exclusion (not being burned on a regular basis) and forest conversion (a change from a natural ecosystem to a pine plantation or agricultural fields) have changed the biodiversity and structure of the pine savannas there.  It is our goal to try to bring back some of this biodiversity and natural pine savanna structure to the ecosystem at McLean Savanna, and it all starts with fire.

smoke column from coleman unit burn

Since 2008 we have put as much fire on the ground at McLean Savanna as the weather will possibly allow, with Tuesday’s burn being one of the better ones.  I say better because it was a very clean burn, meaning that it cleared the understory out very well making lots of room for plants to grow and get plenty of sunlight.

helenium or sneezeweed, a common spring bloomer, photo by Angie Carl

Grass for all!                                                                                                                              Fire is not the only technique we use to restore ecosystem health, though it is very good for the plants and soil, we must also replace some of the lost grasses to ensure that future fires will carry across the savannas.  There are several native grasses to the pine savanna, the most common is wiregrass.  Now that we have burned the Coleman Unit we can plant grass plugs or sow grass seeds which will supplement the natural recurrence of grasses.  Planting grass plugs is a labor intensive means of attaining our grass goals as each plug must be individually set, but the results are good.  Sowing native grass seed is a bit easier but the percentage of seeds that grow into grass is very low, and the seed has to be collected the season before so if there are no viable seeds to collect we are out of luck!  We will be planting wiregrass plugs into the Coleman Unit next weekend, see below if you are interested in helping out.

sandhill thistle, also a spring bloomer and pretty rare for this habitat, photo by Angie Carl

Time will tell.                                                                                                                               So as you may have guessed we have years and years of work ahead of us to restore the landscape at McLean Savanna.  It’s a process that will take many different turns along the way based on factors like drought, hurricanes, and wildfire.  One thing is for sure though, we will be there every day doing the best work we know so that the special plants of McLean Savanna get to grow and be beautiful and future generations can enjoy its uniqueness.

Volunteer Day.                                                                                                                            We are looking for volunteers to help plant wiregrass at the Coleman Unit.  The process is pretty straight forward, the wiregrass is in plug form and they need to be set in the ground, you will be shown how to do it, it’s very easy.  Andy Walker will be leading the work day, he is an employee of the NC Botanical Gardens and has been contracted to do the restoration work on McLean preserve.  The work days will be held Friday 2/24 and Saturday 2/25 from 10:00 to 3:00.  I have put a Google map link below and some written directions from Wilmington. 

If you are interested, and I hope you are because this will be a great opportunity to get out and see a preserve that is not open to the public, please RSVP to Andy by Wednesday 2/22, here is his email address

You will need to wear work clothes and closed toe shoes.  Bring a lunch and plenty of water.  If you have work gloves bring them too, all other necessary tools will be provided.  

Google map link,-77.792258&spn=0.010529,0.018861 

Directions from Wilmington:  Follow I40 west to exit 408 which is the HWY 210 exit.  Take a right off of the exit and follow 210 east for approximately 5 miles, the entrance road to the preserve will be on the left.  Just before the road there is a NC Forest Service sign.  You will meet Andy at the entrance road at 10:00am and he will lead you in to the planting site.

Thanks and have a wonderful weekend!


About secpnc

My name is Sara Babin and I am the Conservation Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy Southeast Coastal Plain program in Wilmington, NC. Our office is responsable for the maintenance and restoration of 35,000 acres of preserve land owned by The Nature Conservancy. We protect the land for ecologically significant species in hopes to ensure a lasting natural history legacy for future generations to enjoy. This blog will highlight our most exciting activities and events with much of the focus being on our controlled burn program. With this blog we hope to share the ins and outs of what we do and how it is bettering the world for plants, animals, and people.
This entry was posted in fire, pine savanna, restoration, volunteers. Bookmark the permalink.

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