Study Area

Ichauway is the 29,000 A (11,733 ha) outdoor laboratory of the JWJERC located in Baker County in the Dougherty Plain of southwestern Georgia. Ichauway Plantation was assembled by Robert W. Woodruff, long term chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, during the 1920s from small farms. Woodruff recognized the unique natural characteristics of the land and for 70 years maintained an extensive tract of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) for quail hunting. Following Woodruff’s death the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation established the JWJERC at Ichauway in 1991.

Ichauway lies on a karst topography with local relief ranging from 10 to 30 ft (3-9 m), with sandy soils and drainage classes ranging from excessively drained sands to very poorly drained clays. The property contains approximately 20,000+ acres (8,000 ha) of upland pine grassland habitats with the remainder consisting of agricultural fields, wetlands, and riparian hardwood hammocks. Pine forest at Ichauway were intensively harvested at the turn of the century, but today prospers from over 80 years of persistent management with prescribed fire and single tree selection silviculture. Upland pine habitats at Ichauway are dominated by longleaf pine and either a wiregrass or broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus) old field understory. Basal area ranges from 40-60 ft2/A (9-15 m2/ha) with pines being widely spaced. Upland hardwood is localized to fire shadows around roads, field edges, wildlife food plots and wetland depressions.

Population size and dynamics of red-cockaded woodpeckers on Ichauway before 1986 are unknown. Baker’s (1981) inventory of the red-cockaded woodpecker population in Georgia from 1966 to 1980 did not include the location of any active clusters in Baker County. Persistence of the Ichauway red-cockaded woodpecker population was impacted by the young age structure of the forest, deadwood management practices, and landscape fragmentation of suitable habitat.

Presently, the forest at Ichauway is a second generation longleaf pine stand dominated by 75-95 year-old trees. Areas that were not harvested for timber and converted to agriculture were turpentined. Today these areas have intact native wiregrass ground cover. After the initial timbering during the early 20th century the turpentine woodlots held the remaining patches of old trees with red heart and red-cockaded woodpecker cavities. The change towards management of quail (Colinus virginianus) in the 1930s shifted timber harvest to old, cat-faced turpentine trees because such trees created fire hazards for the annual prescribed fires that maintained the property. Subsequently, trees suitable for red-cockaded woodpecker cavity development became scarce due to the forest’s young age structure and the lack of heart rot.

Lack of suitable cavity trees was exacerbated by a pulpwood operation which removed all lightning-struck or dead trees, thereby intensifying competition for nesting and roosting cavities by other primary and secondary cavity nesters. Limitation of cavities was corroborated by the 1986 Natural Features Inventory of Ichauway Plantation which found eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) to be “unusually scarce considering the abundance of open, lightly wooded habitats on the Plantation” (Lynch et al. 1986). The pulpwood operation was discontinued in 1989 and number of snags has since risen dramatically with an estimate of one snag for every 2 acres.

During the 1960s agricultural practices within southwest Georgia changed with the introduction of center pivot irrigation. This technology promoted conversion of the landscape to agricultural habitats resulting in additional fragmentation and isolation of Ichauway as an island of suitable habitat (Figure 1). In the mid 1990s the Cyrene Turpentine Co. in Decatur County had the closest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. This population was extirpated in the late 1990s (Jim Ozier, GDNR, personal communication). Currently the nearest red-cockaded woodpecker population is 25 mi (40 km) south, at International Paper’s Southlands Forest in Bainbridge, Georgia. Thus, constraints on cavity development, availability of suitable cavities, and the low probability of immigration to Ichauway limited the red-cockaded woodpeckers ability to persist.