Escambia Experimental Forest

A well stocked sawlog stand Escambia county, Alabama, T.R. Miller company, November 1963

A well stocked sawlog stand in Escambia county, Alabama, T.R. Miller company, November 1963. Photo by William D. Boyer, USDA Forest Service,

This 3,000-acre (1214 ha) field laboratory, located 7 miles (11 km) south of Brewton, Alabama, was established in 1947 by the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station (now Southern Research Station), primarily to study problems associated with the ecology and management of longleaf pine forests. A Forest Superintendent employed by the U.S. Forest Service manages the Escambia Experimental Forest on site. The U.S. Forest Service Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems Research Project located on the campus of Auburn University handles research operations and general administration of the Forest.

The T. R. Miller Mill Company of Brewton, Alabama, provided land for the Experimental Forest, at no cost, under a 99-year lease to the government. Products derived from operations on the Escambia go to the company. Through 1996, 4.03 million cubic feet of pine, 65 percent in poles and logs, plus 231 thousand cubic feet of hardwood have been harvested.

Due to its central location in the longleaf pine belt that extends from the Carolinas to eastern Texas, the Experimental Forest is well situated for the study of this species. Over 20 percent of the remaining longleaf pine forests in the Southeast are within 75 miles of this location. In the heart of the Middle Coastal Plain Province, where much of the second growth longleaf was growing, it is near four other provinces that contain natural longleaf, the Lower Coastal Plain, Upper Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountain.

In 1874, a sawmill was built on the Conecuh River, not far from the mouth of Lindsey Creek. This creek and some of its tributaries on the Experimental Forest were ditched for water logging to supply this mill. A dam for a storage pond can still be seen. Some "sinkers" (heavy logs that sank to bottom of the waterway or pond) have been recovered from creeks on the Forest. Railroads were built into the Forest about the turn of the century, and nearly all-remaining merchantable timber was cut. Some residual stems, too small to cut, were later turpentined.

A little over 80 percent of the forest is in the longleaf pine type with the remainder in slash pine-hardwood bottoms. Research operations here have developed many age classes of longleaf pine, from newly germinated seedlings to stands with trees up to 160 years old. Most of the second-growth timber on the forest is about 85 years old (1997). About 1200 acres (486 ha) have been naturally regenerated, and more than half of this is in stands ranging from 35 to 50 years of age. Many stand densities have been created, particularly in connection with growth and yield studies. Site quality for longleaf is extremely varied but averages between 70 and 75 feet at 50 years of age. No other location has the combinations of stand ages, sites, and conditions that are found on this Experimental Forest.

Controlled burn on Escambia Experimental Forest

Controlled burn on Escambia Experimental Forest. Photo by Thomas C. Croker, USDA Forest Service,

Research on the Escambia has investigated many longleaf problems. These include regeneration, stand management, management alternatives, growth and yield, site evaluation, fire ecology, woods grazing, and a few studies in the branch bottom type. Most of the research and development of the shelterwood system for longleaf pine natural regeneration was done on the Escambia Experimental Forest. Cooperative studies with other Forest Service research units and with Universities have also been conducted on this Experimental Forest. The regional longleaf pine growth and yield study was initiated on the Experimental Forest in 1964, and has since spread to other locations in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Nearly half of the 305 plots in this long-term cooperative study are located on the Experimental Forest.