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Aug. 14, 2020
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Lanier’s shoreline trees deserve special mention on Arbor Day

By Jane Harrison 
 
They stand in winter, silvery limbs quivering in the breeze or emerald needles glistening above the water. Trees, the silent natural sentries of Lake Lanier, guard 700 miles of shoreline, protecting it from ravages of weather, enriching the soil, nourishing wildlife, and beautifying the lake’s edges.
 
On Arbor Day, Feb. 21, Georgia civic groups, schools and organizations pay tribute to the wooden soldiers whose roots nurture deep environmental, practical, and aesthetic benefits. The trees that reign where water meets land deserve special mention for the important roles they fill in life around the lake.
 
“The trees along the government shoreline on Lake Lanier are especially important,” according to Nick Baggett, Natural Resource Manager. He explained that hardwoods and evergreens help protect water quality, serving as natural filters. Their branches, understory growth, and leaf litter slow down rain, allowing more time for it to soak into soil. Their roots hold soil in place and help control erosion.

Wildlife dwells in tree cavities, nests among branches, and feeds on nuts, buds, seeds and berries produced by trees. Their canopy offers shade, a welcome relief to wildlife and humans seeking respite from sunshine on the water. Successful anglers know where fish hideout among submerged tangled roots and dead tree “fish attractors.”
 
Aside from these practical benefits, trees also offer aesthetic value. “People love natural growth as opposed to manmade” constructs, Baggett said. The majestic beauty of lush green in summer, striking reds and golds of fall foliage, stark grays and whites of sleeping winter skeletons, and blooms and pastel buds in spring create a year-round palette against the lake’s blue backdrop.
 
Since the lake filled in the 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has “managed the shoreline by leaving it natural,” Baggett said. The Corps Forest Management Plan specifies that “forest and vegetative management objectives at Lake Sidney Lanier are to sustain a healthy, vigorously growing, uneven-aged, esthetically pleasing forest capable of supporting recreational use.” Achieving that goal means letting nature handle it alone. The 75-plus native tree and shrub species documented by the Corps around Lake Lanier, from Allegheny Chinquapin to Yellow Buckeye, are left to revegetate themselves.
 
Balance is key, Baggett said. Cutting and planting of non-native tree species is restricted on Lanier. The Corps requires permits for altering government owned shoreline and interfering with the natural course of tree life and demise. Baggett noted that some homeowners move to the lake with the idea they are moving into a subdivision and think they can chop down trees on Corps land to enhance their lake view or plant their favorites to adorn their property. He said the Corps manages natural resources for the public good, not for individuals. He speculated that without Corps’ oversight, Lanier’s woodsy shores could transform “into a great big subdivision.” But, “a lot of people love trees and don’t want to see them cut,” he added. They appreciate seasonal views and privacy that trees provide.
 
Baggett said the Corps aims to keep the shoreline as natural as possible, with no manmade interference. New tree growth sprouts from “volunteers,” saplings emerging from seeds and nuts dropped by long time natives. When a tree dies, the goal is to let it decay in place, where it might offer a hollow hole for nesting owls, grub for woodpeckers, or organic matter to enrich the soil.
 
Trees, dead or alive, “are an important part of the ecosystem,” said Baggett, who will be leaving his Corps job in March to serve as the Natural Resource Manager with the US Forest Service at the Chattahoochee/Oconee National Forest office in Gainesville. The lake’s decade-long resource manager pondered about whether he has a favorite tree-lined spot on the lake. “There are so many … I know I like the islands,” he said, referring to the many former hilltops that jut above the water, serving as reminders that trees once dominated all that became Lake Lanier. 
 
Note on Arbor Day from the Georgia Forestry Commission
Arbor Day, Feb. 21 this year, is a day set aside for schools, civic clubs, and other organizations, as well as individuals, to reflect on the importance of trees in our state and across our nation. J. Sterling Morton, the father of Arbor Day, initiated the holiday in Nebraska in 1872. He said, “Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor Day proposes for the future.”
 
The first Georgia Arbor Day was proclaimed by the Georgia General Assembly in December, 1890. In 1941, the General Assembly set the third Friday in February as the day of our state Arbor Day. While National Arbor Day is the third Friday in April, it is too warm at that time of year to plant trees in Georgia. Trees should be planted between November and mid-March so they will have a better chance of becoming established before the onset of summer heat.

Posted online 1.30.20
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