The longleaf pine, a species of pine tree, once used for timber and naval stores is making a comeback with The Longleaf Pine Initiative, a 15-year restoration plan that began in 2009.
Longleaf pine forests covered more than 90 million acres of North America prior to European settlement. Today only 3.4 million acres exist, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Now the restoration is getting a bit of a kickstart. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced July 1 that it would provide $4.6 million in grants to support the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine.
The funds will be used to “restore more than 11,600 acres and enhance more than 163,000 additional acres of longleaf pine habitat,” according to a press release from NFWF.
The longleaf partnership council was formed in 2011 to coordinate all activities and collaboration among the partners interested in restoring longleaf. The partnership council consists of 33 members, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Defense, natural resource management agencies, private landowners and timber companies.
Together these companies support restoration initiatives for the pine ecosystem that the NRCS claims is one of the most “ecologically diverse in the world.”
“There’s been a lot of momentum involving Longleaf,” said Clay Ware, longleaf pine recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’ve been fairly successful in increasing acreage of up to about four-and-a-half million acres with a goal of eight million.”
Ware said the overall goal is not only to increase the acreage of longleaf pine but to restore the entire forested ecosystem, including the plants and animals that depend on this forest type.
Longleaf pine stands out from the other popular pines, such as slash and loblolly, because it is fire resistant, more drought-tolerant, more resistant to insects and diseases and puts down a longer tap root making it more resistant to heavy winds, said Ware.
Steve Gilly, owner of Andrew’s Nursery in Chiefland, has been in the pine business for 28 years and understands why people are interested in using longleaf pine.
“The reason people like longleaf pine so much is because it’s very naturally disease resistant and very resistant to insects like southern pine beetles and other pests like that,” Gilly said. “If you get longleaf established, it’s great.”
The conservation program is working on returning the fire component to the longleaf ecosystem.
Prescribed burns mimic what would have occurred naturally because, historically, low-intensity fires helped shape the ecosystem.
Ware said they have numerous burn programs doing this when conditions are right.
“With restoring longleaf and re-introducing fire in the forests, we are helping to restore a healthier, native forest and a better-quality wood product that will support the local economy,” Ware said.
Beyond the Burn
Landowners also see the benefits of planting the longleaf, with the increasing animal habitats, including those of gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes.
David Brown, professor of Free Enterprise in the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida, is a timber company landowner. After being educated on longleaf pine, he now uses it on his property.
He said he is doing his part in helping the planet by choosing to restore longleaf pine.
“It’s a much better habitat for wildlife,” Brown said.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new Farm Bill program, helps its partners, such as private landowners, conservation organizations and states receive financial support for planting and maintaining longleaf pines, according to America’s Longleaf website.
Monica Jones, district conservationist for NRCS, promotes the Farm Bill and its focus points on longleaf pine.
“I think its important because it’s what was here years ago, so restoring the pine to its natural state is probably a very good idea,” Jones said.
Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO at NFWF, said in the press release announcing the grant program: “The $4.6 million in Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants announced today will continue to build on that record of success and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of public-private partnerships in conserving America’s natural wonders.”