Thursday, January 30, 2014

Longleaf Pine Restoration

On January 14, 2014, staff and volunteers from the the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest planted longleaf pine seedlings on approximately five acres of land previously growing loblolly pine.  This small planting was a part of a larger project funded by a grant from the Alcoa Foundation and American Forests Global ReLeaf Partnership for Trees, in which approximately 65 acres was converted from loblolly pine to longleaf pine.  Currently, nearly 200 acres of the Francis Beidler Forest is longleaf pine.

In previous blog entries, we have described why we wish to restore the native longleaf pine forest ecosystem and how we manage those longleaf pine stands.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is unique. The longleaf pine is a hardy species resistant to wind, insects, disease and fire, which can subdue its frequently-seen cousins the Loblolly and Slash Pines. The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem developed with fire and it remains healthy as long as it periodically burns. Historically, these fires would have been caused naturally by lightning and allowed to burn slowly through the forest. The result would have been the near elimination of leaf litter and debris and the competition from hardwood tree species. Additionally, longleaf pine seeds fare better on exposed mineral soil, so the next generation of longleaf pines gets its start after a fire clears the forest floor.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is greatly diminished throughout the Southeast and the total acreage continues to decline. Previously, over 90 million acres supported the unique longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem, while only two million acres remain today. Some reasons for this decline include the suppression of fires, intense logging, a switch to faster growing pines, and the clearing of land for agriculture and development. Not only is the total longleaf pine/wiregrass acreage declining, over 30 species of plant and animals that are associated with that ecosystem are currently listed as threatened or endangered, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker!

After the logging of the loblolly pines, the site had some remaining debris and emergent hardwood trees killed with herbicide.
Site before burning - Mark Musselman
The site was burned in December to remove debris and competition prior to planting the longleaf pine seedlings.
Site after burning - Mark Musselman
The longleaf pine seedlings, grown in containers at a nursery, arrived packed in moisture-conserving boxes.
Collis Boyd, longleaf and equipment - Mark Musselman

Buckets were used to carry the longleaf pine seedlings into the site.

Dibbles, orange metal tool, were used to open a wedge-shaped cavity in the soil in which to place the seedling. Once the seedling was in the ground, the dibble was placed in the soil behind the seedling and the soil between the dibble and seedling was compressed to seal the seedling in the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Occasionally, an extra step on the soil was needed to ensure a complete seal within the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Only the western portion of the site remained to be planted...
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
 ...and the light rain made the day more interesting.
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman