Bringing Longleaf Pine Forests Back to Louisiana

Participants at Longleaf Restoration Field Day enjoy an outdoor lunch. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service

Now is a good time to help bring back longleaf pine forests to Louisiana. That was the message for the 186 people who came from across the state and Texas to attend the Longleaf Restoration Field Day held this fall in the aptly named Long Leaf, LA.

Longleaf pine forests once covered some 90 million acres in a range that stretched from Virginia to Texas, but have been reduced to around 3 million acres, most of these on public lands. The central Louisiana field day resulted from a regional effort that began in 2009 when 22 federal, state, and private agencies met to come up with a range-wide conservation plan for longleaf pine restoration and adopted the ambitious goal of more than doubling current longleaf pine acres by 2025—a goal only attainable by persuading private landowners to start planting longleaf pine on their lands.

Longleaf pine forests are much easier to re-establish today than even 20 years ago, thanks to proven regeneration technologies and techniques for converting stands developed over the years by Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and collaborators. This “science you can use” coupled with the availability of significant cost-share programs makes this a particularly good time for private landowners to start converting their forested acres.

Last year 17 agencies—including the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—formed the Texas-Louisiana Longleaf Pine Taskforce  to lead restoration efforts in the western Gulf area. This fall the taskforce held the Longleaf Restoration Field Day, which emphasized timber supply and wildlife habitat as advantages of longleaf pine restoration for private landowners.

The field day began at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum in Long Leaf. Buses took the 186 participants to the nearby Palustris Experimental Forest  to an area where a mixed stand of loblolly, longleaf, and hardwoods had been converted to a longleaf pine stand over the past 10 years using a combination of planting, natural regeneration, thinning, and prescribed burning.  

At the next stop, SRS plant physiologist Susana Sung talked about the importance of planting high-quality longleaf pine seedlings. “Strides in longleaf pine seedling technology now ensure successful establishment,” said Sung. “The range of available stock types provides flexibility around cost, time in the initial grass stage, and rate of early growth; so the owner can plan in relation to timber production or early resistance to hurricanes.”

At the third stop, SRS research forester Dave Haywood discussed growth comparisons among loblolly, longleaf, and slash pine. “Our data showed that the longleaf pines were only 3 years behind loblolly and slash pines in height growth, which was the average time the longleaf pines had spent in the grass stage,” he said. Steve Templin of Templin Forestry, Inc. spoke on how longleaf pine trees can provide valuable products for sale in poor timber markets such as the one we are in now across the region.

At the last stop, participants visited a prescribed fire study and learned about the importance of fire and intermediate harvesting for keeping the forest understory productive by controlling brush, removing litter, and allowing light to reach the forest floor. The advantages of a productive herbaceous plant community for wildlife habitat were discussed as well. 

After the tour, participants returned to the museum for a delicious Cajun shrimp boil lunch, and to hear about the federal cost-share programs available for longleaf pine restoration. Luke Lewis, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) regional biologist and one of the organizers of the event, stressed the importance of familiarizing landowners with available programs and collaborating among agencies to support longleaf pine restoration. “Once a landowner has their land cleared they can get a 90 percent cost share for the site-prep work, container-grown seedlings, and planting costs through an agreement between the NWTF and the federal government,” said Lewis. “There’s also the ability to do 90 percent cost share for four or five prescribed burns, which is another tremendous saving to the landowner.”

Besides providing great habitat for wild turkeys and future income from high-quality timber, restored longleaf pine forests are more resistant to fire and hurricanes, and shelter a wide diversity of threatened and endangered species.

And they’re just plain beautiful.

 Co-chairs for the event were SRS scientists Dave Haywood and Mary Anne Sword Sayer and National Wild Turkey Federation regional biologist Luke Lewis. 

Sponsors of the October 5th field day included the Louisiana Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries and Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Forestry Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Louisiana Society of American Foresters, Texas-Louisiana Longleaf Pine Taskforce, The Nature Conservancy, Forest Service Southern Research Station and Kisatchie National Forest, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife, Larson and McGowin, and the Southern Forest Heritage Museum .





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