Shortleaf pine-bluestem restoration in the Ouachita National Forest
The fire-dependent shortleaf pine-bluestem ecological community, once common in the Ouachita Mountains, had all but disappeared by 1970. This absence was due to the cutting of the original forests in the early part of the 20th century followed by effective fire suppression since the late 1930s. With the adoption of Forest Plan amendments in 1994, 1996, and 2002, and a Forest Plan revision in 2005, the Ouachita National Forest committed to restore the shortleaf pine-bluestem ecosystem on some 250,000 acres. Restoration treatments include thinning pine stands to a residual basal area of about 60 ft2 per acre, felling most of the woody midstory stems, and prescribed burning at 3- to 4-year intervals. Achieving conditions similar to those depicted in historic photographs normally requires a thinning, a midstory reduction treatment, and three prescribed fires over about 10 years. Since 1994 some 52,992 acres have been thinned, 42,948 acres have received midstory reduction, and 143,233 acres have received one or more prescribed burns. Managers estimate that 18,653 acres are presently in a substantially restored condition. During this time the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis Vieillot) population has more than doubled, and populations of several other previously declining species of conservation concern have increased markedly.