LongLeaf Pine Restoration

Longleaf Pine Restoration

 

One hundred years ago, Becky Stowe’s ancestors clear ed longleaf pine from Mississippi. Now, she’s bringing it back. She is an 8th generation Mississippian. Her ancestors were “saw people” who cut longleaf down for timber. An interest in preservation led her to TNC where she now works to restore the savannas. “It’s a legacy thing…for me”, she says. “I like the idea of protecting land”.

 

 

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    Longleaf Pine Restoration
    An Interview with Becky Stowe, Jennie Vrbicky and Liz Hanson
    by Karen Bascom
    College of Biological Sciences
    Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

     


    Meeting the Restorationists
    I met with Becky Stowe, Director of Forest Programs, and Jennie Vrbicky and Liz Hanson, Stewardship Technicians at The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Van Cleave, MS office. We discussed TNC’s longleaf pine savanna restoration in Mississippi and their experiences in ecological restoration on the 12,000 acres of longleaf pine savanna that the TNC manages.

     

    A Family Legacy
    One hundred years ago, Becky Stowe’s ancestors cleared longleaf pine from Mississippi. Now, she’s bringing it back.
    She is an 8th generation Mississippian. Her ancestors were “saw people” who cut longleaf down for timber. An interest in preservation led her to TNC where she now works to restore the savannas. “It’s a legacy thing…for me”, she says. “I like the idea of protecting land”.

     

    Fig. 1 young pine
    Fig. 1. A young longleaf pine (K. Bascom).

     

    Fig. 2 native vegetation sample
    Fig. 1.A young longleaf pine (K. Bascom)

     

     

    Longleaf in the Region
    Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris; Fig. 1) is native to the southeastern US. It grows in savannas,grassy areas with wide-spaced trees. They are adapted to fire, as are many of the associated plants. The trees affect fire qualities that help maintain the highest fine-scale plant diversity in the US (Fig.2). Through timber extraction,longleaf was removed from 97% of its range, reducing habitat for endemic species. The TNC restores timber plantations and fields back to longleaf savanna.

     

    A Brief History of longleaf in Mississippi
    Pre-Settlement: Pine savannas dominate southern MS
    1880-1920s: Longleaf cut and harvested for timber
    1940-1950s: Savannas replanted with loblolly pine
    1970s: TNC begins land acquisition in MS
    1980s: TNC-MS chapter formed, longleaf preserves acquired
    Present: Longleaf savanna restoration continues, more than 12000 acres managed by TNC

     

    Restoration Methods
    •Prescribed burning – Lightning-induced fires used to burn large areas of savanna. The TNC uses controlled burns during cooler months (Figs. 3 and 4).
    •Invasive species control – Cogongrass is the primary target. TNC herbicides to remove it during summer months.
    •Planting – TNC has planted >270,000 longleaf to re-grow the savannas.

     

    Fig. 3 prescribed burn
    Fig. 3. A prescribed burn at Mike’s Pond restoration site.

     

    Fig. 4 crown fire
    Fig. 4. A crown fire during a burn.

     

    Current Goals
    •Reach biodiversity quotas set by the US Army Corps of Engineers;
    •Restore natural environmental processes including fire
    •Control invasive species;
    •Removing shrubby groundcover to make habitat for native plants;
    •Balance the restoration requirements of native plants and animals (Fig. 5).
    Fig. 5 frog
    Fig. 5. Native wildlife: gopher frog (Rana capito)

     

     

    Future Plans
    The TNC aims to re-grow native grasses and other plants in the future. This fall, they received a barrel of mixed seed from another savanna. They hope to scatter
    it and see what grows. Many longleaf savanna plants are endemic-species, meaning that they are found only in particular region.

     

    Challenges
    Stowe’s ancestors and other settlers used fire to manage lands. They did not perceive it as dangerous, nor do many of their descendants who continue to burn. But there are challenges toburning in some areas. Sites near Interstate 10 must minimize haze. Some newer residents are opposed to controlled burns. “We need to educate”, says Stowe.

     

    Another consideration is to restore other native species besides pine which requires regular monitoring of changes (Fig. 6). One of the TNC’s longleaf sites borders the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, where there are active efforts to breed endangered cranes. If a crane nests on TNC’s preserves, then they cannot burn the immediate area due to Endangered Species Act regulations. Stowe stresses that the TNC wants to see cranes return, but that the restrictions can cause short – term changes to restoration efforts for longleaf savannas.
    Fig. 6 vegetation monitoring
    Fig. 6. Vegetation monitoring at the Old Fort Bay Preserve

     

    Fig. 7 technician Liz
    Fig. 7. Technician Liz Hanson drives by a burn site.
    Acknowledgments:
    I thank Becky Stowe, Jenny Vrbicky, and Liz Hanson (Fig. 7) of The Nature Conservancy-Mississippi office in Van Cleave, MS for meeting with me. Jennie also provided photographs. I also thank Alex Littlejohn at the TNC-Jackson office for putting me in touch with Becky.

     

    For additional information:

    http://longleafalliance.org/

    and

    http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/mississippi/index.htm

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