A group of students hang out on a rock in a forest.
The Domain Students explore the Domain at the University of the South. © Don Hamerman

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Historic University and Global Conservation Organization Tread New Ground

Forest management plan for 13,000 acres aims to benefit wildlife, recreation and local livelihoods.

The University of the South, familiarly known as Sewanee, and The Nature Conservancy announced that the organizations are collaborating on a new forest management plan for a 13,000-acre forested landscape located within the southern Cumberland Plateau, a global hotspot for ecological diversity.

“Known as the university’s ‘Domain,’ these landholdings represent one of the first forests in the southeastern United States to undergo such an assessment when Gifford Pinchot—then head of the nascent United States Division of Forestry—visited in 1898,” said Ken Smith, Forestry Professor and Assistant Dean of the Environment.

According to Ken Smith, Pinchot enlisted Dr. Carl Schenck, a German forester and founder of the Biltmore Forest School, to develop a forest management plan. Since then, several revised plans have been completed, the last taking place in 2003.

“A lot has changed in forest management over the last decade or so,” said Trisha Johnson, TNC’s director of forest conservation in Tennessee who is helping to implement the current plan. “Our forests are facing unprecedented threats that include unchecked development, non-native pests and a rapidly changing climate.”

A primary component of the new management plan includes pursuing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the Domain. FSC represents a global “gold standard” in forest management that aims to ensure that forests remain productive while protecting local water quality, maintaining a healthy forest cover, prohibiting hazardous chemicals, respecting local communities and much more.

Accordingly, actions prescribed to manage the Domain will draw upon ecological and cultural data. The partners expect that, over the next 10 years, most of the Domain’s forests will remain intact and undisturbed. In some areas, forest management will take place, including prescribed burning and restoration of shortleaf pine habitat to benefit some wildlife species.

“The Sewanee Domain is a renowned and beloved local resource where students and faculty spend many hours working as stewards, monitors and researchers,” adds Amy Turner, Director of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability. “By working with TNC, we can design and implement a well-informed plan that improves the forest for wildlife, students, researchers and the local community who rely on the services that the forest provides.

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The University of the South comprises a nationally recognized College of Arts and Sciences and a distinguished School of Theology. The academic campus and adjacent commercial and residential areas are embedded within and surrounded by diverse natural lands known as the Sewanee Domain, which is managed by professionals in Sewanee’s Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability.

The Sewanee Domain lies on the Cumberland Plateau, where the combination of complex landforms, sandstone and limestone geology, cold stream systems, and large habitat blocks support some of the richest terrestrial and freshwater diversity in the United States. The Domain is home to more than 1,000 species of plants.

The Nature Conservancy has helped to create or expand 30 State Natural Areas, 13 Wildlife Management Areas and three National Wildlife Refuges in Tennessee since 1978. Through its Working Woodlands Program, TNC works on its own preserves and with other landowners to demonstrate conservation forestry—practices that provide us with the forest products we use every day, at a good economic return for the landowner, while maintaining a healthy ecosystem that is essential to our quality of life.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.