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30 Stories for 30 Years: The Important Step of Objectively Assessing

Sam Breyfogle has been a forest manager for most of his career. For many years early in his career, he worked as a corporate forester in northeast Georgia, employed at various parts of the process that occasionally involved converting beautiful natural forests into less diverse loblolly pine plantations. This job became ethically awkward for Sam after he gained a greater appreciation for natural plant communities and everything that hopped, flopped, crawled, and flew across the landscape. 

However, even though Sam’s job was to help suppress these natural forests, the experience did demonstrate to him that some of the corporate forestry ‘toolkit’, which includes loggers, herbicide vendors, and prescribed burn practitioners, could also be used to successfully manage a restoration process. “It is hard to imagine now that the vast majority of our Piedmont had been in agricultural use in the past. The cotton days of the early 19th century were transformative for this landscape. Many of those cotton fields are now cloaked in a resilient forested landscape that has restored itself,” Sam notes. Sam has been a consulting forester since 2007, with the latter third of his career focused on assisting the varied and unique goals of non-industrial private forest landowners.

Sam has drafted numerous baseline documentation reports (BDRs) for ORLT since 2017. He’s commented that “working with the Oconee River Land Trust has been refreshing. My role [in drafting BDRs] has been to protect the landowner’s interests by identifying man made improvements while documenting the myriad conservation values found on these highly varied properties, primarily located in west Georgia’s Piedmont. These BDRs are part of the due diligence process for developing Conservation Easements and often help determine where agriculture and pine plantations may still be acceptable and also where forest restoration efforts might be more appropriately allowed and managed. I’ve appreciated that important step of objectively assessing, in as much as is possible, what we have, before pushing on with uninformed land use plans as usual.” 

Sam Breyfogle, shown here, stops to smell a magnolia.

In addition to creating BDRs for ORLT, Sam has written Forest Management Plans (FMPs) for some of these properties. He’s said “Often, I’ve also been privileged to begin to more directly influence the forest management and restoration process by writing management plans for some of these properties. Knowing that I may help guide some of the initial stages of an intentional forest restoration process is professionally and personally rewarding. Because our forests are now more exposed to unintentional man-made influences such as invasive exotic species competition and climate disruption, I’ve also recognized that we’ve got to be proactive, if not more creative, with the use of our management toolkit. I’ve tried to include prudent implementation of these interventional options in management planning where appropriate. After a decade, the foresters who read and update the plans that I’ve written will question my recommendations so I trust that they will be challenged to observe nuances I may have missed and to recognize the often subtle environmental changes that have occurred and try to improve upon my advice using new and emerging principles of forest management and restoration…grounded by a then available toolkit.” 

Sam’s closing comments are that “Most importantly, I trust that my work will raise an appreciation for and an awareness of the restoration possibilities and limitations for the natural elements still found on our landscape.“

Sam takes a stroll at Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area in Valdosta.

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