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CSP is Bringing New Life to a Family Timber Farm

1.	Before and After Pine stand with Wire grass - Left is a picture taken of the over growth of pine forest on Keith Walls land. Right is a picture of the forest after thinning.
By Ron Morton, Assistant State PAS, Athens, GA

In 2005, Keith Wall retired from 30 years of teaching agriculture at the Ware County High School. He and his wife Iris, then decided to move back to the family farm in Atkinson County. The family’s timber farm was first farmed by his grandfather, but over the years had become infested with privet hedge (ligustrum hedge) and degraded the forest stand’s overall health over time. This invasive species did so by out competing the native grasses and vegetation to take over large open areas as well as depriving the existing timber stand of available nutrients. Once abundant wildlife populations such as deer, quail and turkey were also negatively impacted.

As a result, Wall spent the first few years of his retirement cleaning out the privet hedge and trying return the land back to a healthy and thriving forest. Along the way, he realized he needed some help with the many different challenges he had, but he did not know where to turn. Then one day in 2010, Wall read an article in the local newspaper explaining the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). What he read sounded like the help he was needing.

After further studying the article, W2.	Prescribed Burn - A prescribed burn under the CSP program on Keith Wall's forested land.all decided to visit his local NRCS office. “I contacted Daniel Lavender [NRCS soil conservation technician] in Pearson. After talking a bit, he gave me a survey of questions to answer, which included a long list of activities I could choose to implement on my farm,” said Wall.

With the survey completed he returned to the NRCS office in Pearson with a list of items he knew the land needed. “He gave me a list of practices he was interested in implementing on their operation. He explained what he was trying to improve the wildlife habitat, reduce wildfire potential, improve aesthetics, reduce invasive (species) problems and improve their potential for timber production,” said Lavender.

After later getting word they had been approved for CSP, armed with their new conservation plan and reenergized with a new sense of direction and hope, the Walls restarted their reclamation project. They began by completing some prescribed burns to reduce the amount of undesirable vegetation in the understory of their timber stand as well as reducing the potential for wildfire. After some additional trees and shrub clearing in other areas of the farm, more than just the forest floor was beginning to see the light. 

In addition to an improved timber and native grass stand, the Walls were starting to see some real progress and were thankful for the assistance received. “I was very pleased with the detailed activities and the procedure in carrying out the project. Anytime I had a question I could contact… Daniel Lavender for advice. As far as CSP, the program educated me to the right way of doing conservation on my farm. It brought to my attention that I didn’t need to mow during certain times of the year - such as when turkeys are nesting. All the practices allowed me to improve wildlife habitat, soil, air, and water quality on my farm. I really have found nothing that I dislike about the program. You [the customer] are the one who gets to choose what practices you want to implement,” said Wall.

Lavender said that the Wall’s reaction to CSP and the Conservation Client Gateway (CCG) has been great. The CCG is a secure web-based application that allows landowners, farmers and ranchers the ability to request conservation 3.	Early successional habitat - Early successional habitat development and management can help wildlife and pollinators.assistance; review, sign and submit applications, contracts and more; as well as track their payments. It also provides users the flexibility to determine when they want to engage with NRCS online and when they prefer in-person conservation planning assistance.

“The Walls are now starting to see how their efforts now will provide long term benefits for wildlife and timber production on their land. They are now in their second CSP contract and continue to be excited about implementing their practices. So much so, that it has given them work to do together on a regular basis. Keith Wall does a lot of the physical labor and picture taking while his wife Iris assists with mowing and other enhancements and practice implementation. She usually puts the requested documents together and uploads the information on the CCG. This has turned into a family project for the Walls and they seem to enjoy the activities as well as the improvements it has made to their operation. I have never seen as much excitement and enthusiasm about a project in all my years with NRCS,” said Lavender.

Wall is now seeing how the CCG 4.	Satilla River - Keith Wall – This hardwood bottom next to the Satilla River is part of Walls's property. Wall is trying to protect the streams, river and bottomland on his an important tool, but admits that it did take some getting used to. “At first I didn’t like it due to the fact of being able to enter only one picture at a time.” With some additional troubleshooting help from Lavender, it was easily remedied for the Walls to help speed up the process. “Now I believe CCG will be an important [part of the] process for submitting documentation,” said Wall.

The Walls’ conservation philosophy is simple, “We all need to take care of our land… I thank God each day that he has given us his land to be a caretaker of and I thoroughly enjoy it!”