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Great Smoky Mountains National Park To Burn 400 Acres Near Cataloochee


Prescribed burns are useful tools for improving wildlife habitat in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. NPS file photos.

Smoky conditions likely will be found around Cataloochee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the next few weeks as park crews work on burning through 400 acres of landscape.

The prescribed burns, in the Canadian Top unit adjacent to Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina, could begin as soon as Monday, weather permitting, and continue off and on through early November.

The two burn units are located on Bald Top adjacent to Mathews Branch near the Cataloochee Ranger Station. The units are part of the larger Canadian Top multi-year prescribed fire project, where fire managers have been conducting a series of low-intensity, controlled burns to restore the composition and open structure of the oak woodlands that occur on upper slopes and ridges within the site. These fire and drought-tolerant natural communities are important to wildlife and overall ecosystem health which are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region.

"One of the goals of the prescribed burn is to improve elk forage and habitat," said Shane Paxton, who leads the park's Wildland Fire Module. “This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing the regeneration of oak and yellow pines along with increasing the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Over time, this increase in herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor will improve forage for elk which graze the nearby meadows.”

Roads and trails will remain open to the public throughout the burn operations, although Little Cataloochee Trail may be temporarily closed if fire activity warrants. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area.

The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are being funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.


Funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation? This is the foundation with a primary mission of increasing elk populations for purposes of recreational hunting. I've always been suspicious that the main objective of the RMEF's sponsorship of the elk project in the Smokies was to use the Smokies as a government funded game preserve to establish a population of elk that would increase in numbers and migrate to areas outside the park where hunting would be permitted.

government funded game preserve

What incremental funding does the government supply for this Elk project?

to establish a population of elk that would increase in numbers and migrate to areas outside the park where hunting would be permitted.

And what is wrong with that? The elk multiply, more people in the park get to enjoy seeing elk and the hunters have more elk to hunt. Sounds like a win all around.

TnHiker, I'm not sure if you're unhappy that elk are back in the smokies (and Arkansas and Kentucky and Virginia and Wisconsin and.....) as a result of privately funded transplant operations or if you're unhappy that some might be shot eventually by hunters...

The return of elk to an historic range seems to be great news to me, especially if a private group like RMEF is footing big portions of the bill.... I'm also happy that huntable populations of a wonderful animal like elk are available to hunters in the state.

The economic benefits that result from these transplants are wonderful too. Seems like a win-win to me. As elk populations grow in these areas it even seems like a winner for the elk...

Based on what I've read about elk in the Smokies, I'll have to agree with ec on this one.

According to the park website, "Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat....A primary mission of the National Park Service is to preserve native plants and animals on lands it manages. In cases where native species have been eliminated from park lands, the National Park Service may choose to reintroduce them."

If the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is willing to help fund that effort, and it eventually results in reintroduction of elk onto land outside the park where they are subject to hunting, I don't see that as an issue, as long as the elk don't create problems for adjoining private landowners.

There's no question the chance to see elk in the park has been a big hit with visitors.

I can understand TnHiker's problem with the (possible) motivations of the RMEF's reintroducton of the elk to the GSMNP. Unfortunately, it seems (often) that overt goals are overshadowed by covert ones when they become public knowledge. However, in the long run, I do believe the outcome of this will be overwhelmingly positive and thus outweigh the negatives of any hidden agenda.


What possibly could the "hidden agenda" be?

ec - I was referring to TnHiker's comment. As you may have read, I stated (possible) motivations. I did this specifically because I do not know their motivations. If, by chance, the agenda of RMEF is to re-populate for hunting, and they are not making that agenda known overtly, then, I would assume it is a hidden agenda. Again, I was specifically responding to TnHiker's concern, which I agree with, if it is the case that the true reason for RMEF's work on this project is to populate for hunting rather than to populate for the good of the elk.

if it is the case that the true reason for RMEF's work on this project is to populate for hunting rather than to populate for the good of the elk.

What difference does it make as to their "true reason"? If the effect is to increase elk in the park and elsewhere how could it possibly be bad? Its OK if they are doing it for the elk but its not ok if they do the exact same thing to improve hunting? PC run amuck.

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