Restoration of longleaf pine--the status of our knowledgeThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
By the fifth anniversary of the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative in 2014, the decline in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris L.) appears to have been reversed. The area in longleaf pine-dominated stands currently exceeds 4 million acres, up from a low of about 3 million acres two decades ago. A major contribution to this reversal has been the recent establishment of more than 500,000 acres of longleaf pine plantations. However, the plantation approach has limitations in an environment where stand establishment costs exceed $300 per acre, when large-diameter sawlogs currently bring stumpage prices of $30 per ton or less, and when the most urgently-needed habitat is found in mature stands with well-developed understory flora. In addition, expanding the restoration of planted longleaf pine stands will require excluding hybrid Sonderegger pines (P. ×sondereggeri H.H. Chapm.) from longleaf pine seed orchards and nurseries, and developing silvicultural tactics for sustainable and lucrative pine straw harvests or other local niche markets. A broader and more inclusive approach to restoration might include identifying mixed-pine and pine-hardwood stands with a minor manageable longleaf pine component. Evidence from State surveys and FIA data suggests that such stands could add several million acres of restorable longleaf pine stands across the South. The silvicultural tactics in these stands are simple—harvest the non-longleaf pine component and restore prescribed burning. Not only would this bring an early economic return to the landowner, it would more quickly restore habitat conditions for the flora and fauna of interest in longleaf pine ecosystems. If the approach is feasible, expanding the use of prescribed fire on private lands will become more important, and perhaps more problematic, in restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems.