Restoring the Longleaf Pine
The South has its icons: sweet tea, grits, and football are but a few. But one preceded them all—the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). Among the most diverse ecosystems in the world, longleaf forests once dominated 90 million acres of the coastal plain from North Carolina to Texas, even extending up into some mountainous areas. Today, only a fraction, 3 percent, remains. Thanks to a highly concerted effort the numbers are rising, but longleaf still faces an uphill battle.
The Fairlawn purchase is part of OSI’s growing effort to give the forests a fighting chance: not only does it set aside more land for this keystone species, but it also makes controlled burning possible. A recent OSI loan of $2.18 million to The Nature Conservancy will do the same, securing more than 1,400 acres for longleaf restoration at the Talladega National Forest in Alabama.
In addition to those transactions, OSI’s research has informed longleaf-related conservation strategies and goals during the past few years. Seeking to increase dialogue about and conservation funding for places where multiple public values intersect, OSI in 2013 conducted mapping projects to identify 11 core working forest areas in longleaf country that are critical anchors for forestry-based economies, provide multiple conservation benefits, and are at risk of development. It also released a related report, Retaining Working Forests: Eastern North Carolina, which focused in depth on one of those regions.
The report analyzed the largest forest ownerships, describing tools and incentives that can produce win-win results for conservation and economic well-being. Key opportunities include leveraging military funding where training and conservation needs intersect; maintaining forest uses by paying landowners for ecosystem services, such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and recreation; and encouraging emerging forest product markets that are compatible with conservation goals.
In 2013, OSI was asked by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to lead the business planning process for its five-year, $7.5 million Forestland Stewards Initiative. The initiative focuses on advancing healthy forest ecosystems within three geographies across the Southeast, including longleaf in the piney woods of Texas and Louisiana and the coastal Carolinas. In these coastal plain landscapes, OSI worked with stakeholders to focus longleaf restoration strategies and goals, gathering and analyzing data to determine the effect of forest management techniques on different ecosystems and species. The business plan estimates that by making strategic investments in landowner outreach, tree planting, and accelerating controlled burning and other vegetation management, partners will improve the conservation status of at least 130,000 acres of longleaf forest in the next five years.
As OSI’s work in the Southeast continues to grow, joining in the region’s longleaf pine conservation efforts is a natural fit. Restoring this southern icon is a monumental task, but working together, the conservation community is making it happen.