Florida's threatened gopher tortoise (Credit: Hans Hillewaert)

Osceola National Forest is a unique 200,000-acre combination of pine flatwoods and cypress swamps in northeastern Florida. It is home to a great diversity of wildlife, including species like the Florida black bear, American alligator and gopher tortoise. Because this tortoise creates burrows that are used by hundreds of other types of animals, it is considered a keystone species and particularly vital to the survival and balance of its ecosystem. Unfortunately for the gopher tortoise, it is especially fond of longleaf pine flatwoods and savannahs, which have seen a great deal of over-harvesting in the past and development in the present. Combined with the damage done to the species when they were commonly hunted, this habitat loss has caused the gopher tortoise to be declared an officially threatened species.

Longleaf pine flatwoods (Credit: USFWS Southeast)

In 2007, the Bugaboo Fire burned across much of Georgia and Florida, reaching into Osceola National Forest and destroying sections of its distinctive flatwoods. American Forests’ ongoing project in Osceola National Forest has planted 700,000 longleaf pine seedlings to restore more than 2,000 acres of pine flatwoods to the region. Not only will these plantings provide much-needed habitat for the threatened gopher tortoise, but they will also help reestablish the longleaf pine as a dominant species in the ecosystem.

To learn more about this and other Global ReLeaf projects, click here.