Over the 42 years Jack Muncy has been at TVA, he has seen a lot of things change. But one thing has never changed for him: his commitment to proactive stewardship.
As the lead for the team of land management professionals that developed TVA’s land condition assessment (LCA) process, Mr. Muncy—who is a senior specialist, Reservoir Land Condition—sees land condition assessments as a logical starting point for responsible public land stewardship.
Even in the chill of winter, TVA employees are in the field, assessing resource conditions, checking property boundaries, documenting resource stewardship needs and developing prioritized tasks to address those needs.
“You can’t say whether a parcel of land is being misused or if it would be good for recreation, wildlife habitat enhancement, development or preservation, unless you lay eyes on it,” says Mr. Muncy. “LCAs are a practical approach to collecting the facts we need to make smart decisions about our land.”
Land condition assessments were the brainchild of Mr. Muncy’s back in the mid-2000s, when resource management was done using varying methodology across the Valley. Then in 2009, Mr. Muncy led the team that designed an integrated process for how each parcel of land could be assessed, including rankings for important attributes like public safety, resource protection, vegetation and impact to wildlife habitat from things like insects and disease, invasive plants, unauthorized activities and more.
Under the process, which was implemented the next year, each parcel gets scored based on a hands-on, professional assessment of the property by at least two Natural Resource Management specialists.
“The employees walk the land and make notes on specific resource conditions,” Mr. Muncy said, “then they sit down and talk through the assessment worksheet, which guides the ranking of ‘Good,’ ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor.’ The process is uniform across the diverse landscapes of the Valley, from the mountains in the east to the lowlands of the west.”
Each parcel’s assessment worksheets are entered into an electronic database in which Natural Resource Management can access a priority listing of needs by parcel, reservoir and various other sorting options. This database of natural resource management tasks is the foundation of much of the work NRM employees complete in order to fulfill public land and resource management goals and ultimately TVA’s stewardship and public service missions.
Assessments cover everything from whether or not the signage for the public is in good shape (or if there is any at all), if there is any illegal dumping going on, if invasive plants are causing issues and the condition of public access roads or areas used for informal recreation, such as bank fishing or camping.
“If we go into an area where we can tell lots of folks have been camping, we can assess whether or not we should make improvements to the site, like adding designated parking areas or other amenities to make their experience more user-friendly,” says Mr. Muncy.
“Sometimes an area may become so popular the land and resources are impacted and we may need to use best management practices to reduce impacts while preserving the public’s enjoyment to the extent possible. Often, it is all about balancing public use and resource protection goals and optimizing both as much as possible.”
Since beginning the standardized process, Natural Resource Management employees have assessed over 110,000 acres of TVA’s 180,000 acres of Tier I land, or land that receives the most public use and/or has the highest ecological value. These assessments have resulted in thousands of tasks being completed by TVA staff, often with TVA’s partners, to address the stewardship needs that LCAs have identified.
“The land condition assessment process has transformed how we manage the public land we are entrusted to be stewards of,” says Evan Crews, senior manager, Natural Resource Management.
“This standardized, integrated system allows Natural Resources staff to plan and execute our work such that we are making consistent, informed decisions to optimize the public value as well as meet our goals for clean, safe lands that support healthy natural communities and good water quality in the adjacent rivers and reservoirs.”
According to Mr. Crews, the procedure has helped his team ensure they allocate their budget with natural resource and public service priorities.
“Using this system, we’re able to look comprehensively across the Valley and focus our budget on the most critical needs, such as areas that receive the most visitors or underlying conditions that could pose a public safety or environmental concern, which are obviously our top priority,” he says.
“Once those critical needs are met, we can then direct remaining resources to the diversity of other high priority stewardship needs, working together with our many internal and external partners and growing volunteer base to do our share in improving the quality of living in the Tennessee River Valley.”