By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern

longleaf pine
Longleaf pine stands provide vital habitat and food for many organisms by helping feed the fire regime. Photo credit: US F&W Service/Flickr

Now that the weather is getting colder and colder in so many parts of the country, many of us have fantasized of moving to Florida. Well, many tree and animal species are lucky enough to call the sunshine state home. And, thanks to American Forests’ partnership with the Longleaf Alliance in 2015 as part of our Global Releaf program, their home at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City got a major upgrade! In fact, 68,000 longleaf pine, a keystone species, were planted across 100 acres.

The Longleaf Alliance was created to ease communication between private landowners, forest industries, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, scientists and tree huggers alike and provide them with the education needed to help the longleaf pine thrive from Virginia to Florida. With their help, the longleaf pine is being restored and managed all along the southeast, where ecosystems are beginning to thrive!

The longleaf pine is considered extremely important in the south since it has the ability to grow in sandy, dry, infertile soil as well as on steep or mountainous slopes. This enables the pine to prevent soil erosion, which can be damaging to coastal and freshwater ecosystems. They are also extremely resistant to pine beetles, forest diseases, fire and strong storms, making them ideal for coastal areas and forests. All these qualities make the longleaf pine an amazing tree that provides habitat for a wide range of species, such as the endangered gopher tortoise and the Bachmann’s sparrow.

gopher tortoise
Fires are fueled by longleaf pine needles, which help keep shrubs small enough for gopher tortoises to eat. Photo credit: vladeb/Flickr

Gopher tortoises are long-lived, threatened reptiles that frequent longleaf pine stands and eat the low-growing vegetation. These land-dwelling creatures build borrows in the sand, and once they migrate to a different area, another creature will continue to use the abandon borrow. Bachmann’s sparrows live in the understory of old-growth longleaf pine stands, but as habitat destruction has increased due to urbanization, they are becoming a rare site. What is even more interesting is that longleaf pine ecosystems also provide habitat for at least 27 other endangered species in the southeast. This tree is vital to their prosperity, making restoration and management the key to their success.

While this site may not be different from other longleaf restoration project sites, Robert Abernethy, President of the Longleaf Association did say, “that the site will be beneficial to the wildlife that use the longleaf habitat and will provide military personnel, as well as the public, with improved recreational opportunities such as hunting, camping, hiking and bicycling.”

The longleaf is also extremely long lived — 450 plus years — which will make this site last for “nearly half a millennium,” and go on to provide habitat and recreation for generations to come. American Forests is happy to help support projects such as this, and we hope all of you take the time to visit this site or other longleaf pine forests!