Initiated in Fall 2001, the overall goal of the project is to maintain and enhance biodiversity throughout the historic Big Barrens region of central Kentucky, primarily by protecting, managing and restoring native plant communities in an integrated manner.
The Big Barrens' ecosystem encompasses about 1 million acres covering parts of Meade, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, Hart and Larue Counties in central Kentucky. Much of this area was historically dominated by grassland ecosystems that were maintained by fire (both natural & set by Native Americans) as well as grazing by large herbivores like elk and bison. Many remnant patches of native grassland still exist in the area and The Nature Conservancy and its partners have been working with some of these landowners for several years.
Specific conservation targets identified while preparing the Site Conservation Plan for the project during 2002 include karst systems (caves & sinkholes), tallgrass prairie, oak-hickory barrens and cedar glades, upland oak-hickory forest, riparian or streamside zones, and the rattlesnake master-borer (an extremely rare moth dependent upon the rattlesnake master plant).
Very high ranked threats identified during the planning process include development, fire suppression, invasive and/or exotic species and various agricultural production practices. High ranked threats include management for certain species (such as fescue) and improper forestry practices (such as high-grading and failure to use Best Management Practices during timber harvesting).
Initial conservation strategies drafted to abate the threats listed previously are as follows:
In Spring 2002, an article was placed in the Elizabethtown newspaper regarding the state's Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements program for protecting farmland from development. So far, more than 113 landowners with over 19,802 acres have expressed an interest in the program, with at least 29 applications totaling 5,157 acres having been sent into the state Department of Agriculture.
In Spring 2003, 19 burns totaling 553 acres were completed in the region. Conducting prescribed burns for landowners will be a major spring and fall activity throughout the course of the project. Efforts are currently underway to gradually increase our capacity to help landowners in this regard over the next several years.
During fall 2002, a helicopter flight of the project area was conducted to identify remnant patches of native grassland suitable for restoration. This data is still being evaluated.
In Spring 2003, seven landowners were loaned a special no-till drill from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources to plant new stands of native grasses and forbs on 145 acres. Numerous other landowners completed similar plantings using locally available equipment, with technical assistance from us and/or staff from county USDA offices. An annual event, these plantings were completed either by providing seed and chemical or by helping to get landowners signed up for financial reimbursement through various state and federal cost-share programs.
Conservation buffer strips of trees, shrubs, and/or grasses continue to be promoted whenever appropriate, especially along streamside areas and around crop fields. We also work cooperatively with the Kentucky Division of Forestry through their Forest Stewardship Program to promote proper forest management and use of Best Management Practices during timber harvesting operations. During FY03, more than 67 landowners were provided technical assistance on managing more than 7,731 acres through various state and federal programs.
Plants of concern within the project area include: