I got to the office early this morning for an 8:00 departure. As usual, Don was there even earlier, which was good because that gave him time to brew a pot of coffee, a MUST HAVE for any road trip. We hit the road a few minutes after 8:00 and headed west on I-10 towards Lake Charles. We had appointments that morning with two different donors, and once we attended to business (and ate a really good lunch) we met up with Rick Jacob, TNC’s Director of Conservation Forestry, to visit CC Road Savanna. This preserve, about 15 miles north of Lake Charles, is one of the best remaining examples of wet longleaf pine flatwood savanna in southwestern Louisiana. Legend has it that our restoration ecologist, Latimore Smith, practically did back flips when he found American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana ), a federally endangered spring-time flowering plant, on the site.
What amazed me about CC Road Savanna is the quality of the grasses-they looked like big, soft piles just waiting for me to lie down and take a nap. I couldn’t get enough of it! The canopy of the trees is open, allowing ample sunlight and rain to reach the forest floor and support a diverse array of plants. While we were there, a purple wildflower called Blazing Star was blooming and it was gorgeous.
Given my propensity for clumsiness, I almost tripped a few times from running into “pimple mounds” - mounds of earth that occur naturally and create shallow pools during rainy, wet periods. These savannas and associated wetlands are important for floodwater retention, groundwater recharge and maintenance of water quality. When timber companies come in and plant loblolly or slash pine plantations, they will often level the ground and then plant the trees in raised rows, which makes restoration efforts much more difficult. Recreating the “pimple mounds” is nearly impossible, yet they are so important for the landscape and the water quality services they provide.
I noticed the charred tree bark from fires that have helped restore the longleaf pine at this site. Young longleaf pine are dependent on fire, as are many of the flowering plants and grasses that grow in this habitat type. Another cool thing about longleaf pine is that the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, a federally endangered bird, will build its nest in them. This is the only species of woodpecker in North America that excavates and builds a nest in a living tree, and they seek out mature pine forests of Longleaf Pine and Loblolly Pine.
After visiting CC Road Savanna, we headed north along Highway 171 to Shreveport. Check out Day 2 to learn about our visit to Bayou Dorcheat and Wafer Creek Ranch.