Hurricanes and major storms cause billions of dollars of damage to southern timber resources. If you add the increased risk of wildfire and insect and disease damage that comes with downed wood, you have millions of acres of forests vulnerable to major damage.
One idea for reducing the vulnerability of forests to disturbance involves recreating the ecosystems that existed before they were replaced by plantation loblolly pine forests. In areas where hurricanes occur, this often means planting longleaf pine, which once covered over 90 million acres in the Southeastern United States, but now occupies less than 3 percent of its original range. It has even been suggested that managers and landowners take advantage of the damage caused by hurricanes to advance conversions on sites that have been planted with loblolly pine for generations.
Loblolly pine historically grew in moister areas without much fire, but was widely planted in early reforestation efforts on drier and more fire-vulnerable sites where longleaf pine—better adapted to fire—once dominated. Longleaf pine has also been found to be more resistant to damage from southern pine beetle, a native insect that has inflicted over $1.5 billion in damages over the past decade. One strategy currently promoted by the Forest Service is to replant longleaf pine in areas where southern pine beetle has destroyed loblolly and other pines.
In response to the growing need for information about longleaf pine ecosystems, SRS established the Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems unit. Directed by project leader Kris Connor, the unit includes scientists with expertise in plant physiology, ecology, silviculture, and biometrics. Unit scientists contribute long-term research findings and practical information on both natural and artificial regeneration of longleaf pine and on restoring the understory plants that play an essential role in longleaf pine ecosystems.
To find out more about longleaf pine, the unique ecosystems the species harbors, and the SRS research that supports current restoration efforts, see the summer 2005 issue of Compass, available online at http:// www.srs.fs.usda.gov/compass/ summer2005/ or in hardcopy by order through email@example.com.