Happy New Year! In 2014, amidst numerous despondent stories of Ebola, MH370 and more, American Forests worked to instill resiliency for a species that has long undergone devastation of its own: the longleaf pine.

Longleaf pine forests now span only three percent of their historic range, which extended from eastern Texas to southern Virginia.
Longleaf pine forests now span only three percent of their historic range, which extended from eastern Texas to southern Virginia. Photo credit: ChrisM.

If you live in the southern U.S. or follow American Forests, you know the story all too well. The longleaf pine, once covering an expansive 90 million acres, currently covers less than three percent of its historic range. An indigenous, endangered species that extends from eastern Texas to southeast Virginia, the longleaf pine was once thought to be an incredibly abundant resource and, as such, was widely harvested to produce timber for ships.

As longleaf pine can grow for up to 150 years to reach their full potential height — can we have a round of applause for those that just escaped “puberty” after germinating during the Civil War? — many of the depleted longleaf pine forests were regrown with faster-growing loblolly pine and other species that could provide quicker economic and supposedly ecological benefits. However, one tree does not always equal another in every ecosystem — longleaf pine trees are well-known for being extraordinary carbon sinks. Combined with their knack for withstanding extreme drought, pests, pollution and wildfire, the species plays an incredibly important role in mitigating the effects of climate change on the region.

There are more than a few animals that specifically call longleaf pine forests home, including the gopher tortoise — the only native tortoise found east of the Mississippi river — which forages for food and digs burrows that are eventually used as shelter for more 350 other species. Other endangered species include the red cockaded woodpecker, flatwoods salamander, and indigo snakes. In fact, nearly two-thirds of threatened or endangered wildlife species in the southeastern U.S. rely on or are associated with longleaf pine forests.

What to do?

For starters, since 1992, American Forests Global ReLeaf has planted more than 4.5 million longleaf pines. In 2014, American Forests continued the legacy of restoring this vital species in our Paulding Wildlife Management Area project in Georgia. In an area that is enjoyed extensively for outdoor recreation by those escaping city life in the Atlanta metro area, American Forests and local partner Longleaf Alliance planted 25,000 endangered Longleaf pine to restore these forests to their original natural splendor. In addition to enhanced recreation, these trees provided integral habitat for the dozens of at-risk and rare species that call longleaf forests home.

The success of this project and the innumerable benefits that longleaf ecosystems provide carried on into American Forests’ work in 2015, as we are continuing our longleaf restoration efforts by planting 103,000 total trees in our Tyndall Air Force Base and Box R Wildlife Management projects in Florida.