Okefenokee’s Forestry Technician leaves legacy

Forestry Technician Howard McCullough is retiring on December 31, 2019, culminating a 33-year career with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Hired by Forester Ron Phernetton in 1987, Howard learned from Ron until 2001. Together they began restoring native longleaf habitats within the uplands of the refuge. 

It was under the guidance of Howard that longleaf restoration took shape on the ground as the existing forest was cruised, marked, harvested, and longleaf pine seedlings planted. To continue to provide suitable habitat for the red-cockaded woodpeckers and other associated native wildlife species, the upland areas were not clearcut, but meticulously single tree marked, retaining older slash pines and favoring longleaf pines, gradually moving towards a forest dominated by longleaf pines. Howard often referred to it as an art, painting the future of the woods. Considering longleaf pines have a 300-400 year lifespan, creating openings in the forest for the establishment of new age classes of longleaf is important for perpetuating the longleaf forest. The consistent, careful use of prescribed fire is critical for restoring the understory and enhancing longleaf pine seedling growth. Howard’s extensive knowledge of prescribed burning led him to guide the refuge on appropriate times to burn, minimizing negative effects. 

Howard also held a central role protecting natural resources on and off the refuge during wildfire events. He observed how fire moved through different vegetation and was a significant advisor to the many incident teams and fire crews on the ground fighting the fires. Howard was often performing reconnaissance missions in the helicopter; mapping the fire’s progress and reporting his observations. 

Few people have spent their entire careers on the ground studying, experimenting, observing, questioning, and managing for historic pine flatwood forest conditions. Howard has crafted the foundation for restoration of the native pine flatwoods habitat on the refuge that once covered the broader southeastern landscape. He has become a master of ecological forest management within these forests. The refuge hopes that future land managers are as environmentally conscience of the entire ecosystem and embrace the challenges of restoring longleaf in the pine flatwoods as Howard has over the past 33 years. Future foresters at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge will expand on his legacy. 

Okefenokee’s Forestry Technician leaves legacy