Project Name: South Sandy Watershed Restoration Stewardship
Location: Talladega National Forest, AL
Number of Trees: 31,000
Four hundred years ago, America’s southeast was filled with forests of longleaf pine — an estimated 60-90 million acres of them. These long-lived conifers grow best in wet, temperate climates and grew from Florida to Virginia and west to eastern Texas. They were a dominant species in southeastern forests, but their exploitation for timber and other uses decimated their populations.
During colonial times, the trees were first harvested for their by-products (tar, pitch, turpentine and rosin), as these materials were used to waterproof and protect many areas of a ship. Then, because of the wood’s strength, longleafs were harvested for building bridges, factories, wharves and railroad crossties. By the early 1900s, the once-dominant longleaf pine forests were a remnant in their former range, and a movement began to protect them.
The main strategy devised to protect them was to suppress fires in the region. The problem with this plan is that fire is necessary for longleaf’s reproduction. Without fire, forest floors accumulate natural debris, such as pine needles and leaves, preventing the longleaf pine seeds from reaching the soil, and new plants and trees outgrow the longleaf saplings. By the end of the 20th century, less than 2.5 million acres of longleaf pine forest remained.
As the longleaf pine’s numbers dwindled, so did those of the animal species that called it home. Today, some of those species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, are listed as endangered or threatened. Restoring longleaf pine to its traditional range will restore habitat for not just the red-cockaded woodpecker, but indigo snakes, gopher tortoises and a number of other animals In 2012, American Forests is partnering with the National Wild Turkey Foundation to plant 31,000 longleaf pines in Alabama’s Talladega National Forest to help restore the species and bring back balance to this vital ecosystem.
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