Thursday, December 21, 2006

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)

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!

FBF has planted several stands of longleaf pine and wiregrass within the sanctuary in an effort to restore this native ecosystem. Today, a recently acquired piece of property was burned in preparation of longleaf pine planting next month. Prior to the purchase, the land had been logged, so the burning removed debris, exposed the mineral soil, and eliminated any hardwoods left after the logging. Using drip torches, six staff members from FBF and Silver Bluff plus two neighbors took less than three hours to burn the forty acres.

No comments: