Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation is known for its parks, nature centers, summer camps and special programs. Not many know about the unsung heroes who work behind the scenes in the Natural Resources Division to protect the county’s natural resources and environmentally sensitive areas.
Christa Furtsch Rogers manages a staff of five natural resource professionals, each with an expertise in biology, ecology, botany or forestry. They work to protect and manage the natural resources in the county’s parks, greenways, nature preserves, land-banked open space and natural heritage sites.
It is necessary to make Mecklenburg County’s land resilient because of the increasing pressures on the land like climate change and development, “We want to provide natural resources for the citizens of Mecklenburg County for many generations to come,” said Rogers. “Basically, we want to restore the balance.”
Land and Timber Management
Managing Mecklenburg County’s land means assessing the needs of the land and the impact of non-native invasive plants and animals and deciding how to proceed. Rogers said, “When we talk management, we are talking about manipulating the land in some way. As land managers, we try to apply treatments across a large landscape, many acres at a time. The reason we do that is we try to mimic mother nature.”
According to Rogers, in an urban setting, such as Charlotte, prescribed fires are the most effective tool or treatment to get rid of excess brush, shrubs and trees, encourage new growth of native vegetation and preserve plant and animal species. Rogers said, “In the last 50 to 100 years, we have suppressed fire in this area. That has dramatically changed the types of trees that grow here.”
Non-native invasive plants can wreak havoc on the landscape. Rogers said that although kudzu is an example of a non-native invasive plant, it is not the worst offender. Autumn Olive, a 5-foot to 6-foot tall green shrub, out-competes our native plants, preventing them from growing. The wildlife in the area depend on the survival of these native plants.
“We have all these plants and even animals from all over the world that are taking over our environment,” Rogers said. In addition to prescribed fires, the department uses herbicides, chain saws and brush saws to get rid of non-native plants.
Natural Resources staff work with logging crews to remove “pine plantations” – large forests with only pine trees growing. These loblolly pine tree forests are not natural and aren’t healthy for the environment. Typically, nothing else grows there and it lacks the variety that a strong forest requires. “We’ll remove those pine trees and plant another type of pine or we will plant a different type of tree to help diversify the plants that are growing there.” Rogers likens a forest to a stock portfolio: “You want to be safe and resilient. It’s the same thing with nature. The more species you have the better.”
Natural Resources can do its job best when they know and understand the plants, animals and insects they are managing. Lenny Lampel, Natural Resources coordinator/supervisor works in the James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity Studies located at Reedy Creek Park Nature Preserve. He said, “You want to know what resources are out there. It’s important to have an understanding of the diversity of birds and mammals and reptiles and amphibians. If you know what’s out there, you can kind of understand what their needs are, what kind of habitats you find these things in and what other species they are associated with.”
Lampel is involved with “Moth Nights”, a research project involving Mecklenburg County’s moth population. Several times a year, Natural Resources staff attract moths with a black light or mercury vapor light to a moth sheet. They also use “mung”, a concoction made with rotten bananas, stale beer, molasses and brown sugar to paint on the trunks of trees to attract certain species of moths. They photograph and identify what they find from sunset through 1 a.m. A couple of years ago at Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge, a unique moth specimen was found. “This looks like a potentially new species,” said Lampel. They have to find two more specimens of the same moth before they can move forward with identifying a new species.
Natural Resources partners with nature centers for public moth nights. The next local event is from 8:30 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday, July 21, at the Adventure Center at the Anne Springs Close Greenway.
If you want to get involved with what Natural Resources is doing in the county, contact Christa Furtsch Rogers at (704) 948-4504 or Christa.Rogers@mecklenburgcountync.gov to find out about volunteer opportunities.