Restoring Longleaf

Authored by Brannon Knight

The prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted this winter to be an El Niño year, which typically means colder temperatures and above average rainfall for the southern region. At the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve (OISP) this prediction seems to be holding true. The wet winter has definitely restricted prescribed burning to some degree.

The good news is that it should provide the land management staff adequate moisture to extend the fire season well into the natural fire season (May to July). The fuel and soil moisture should allow us to burn during months that are typically associated with dryer conditions that historically would have set the stage for potential landscape level fires that we know shaped and molded natural plant communities within the Longleaf/wiregrass region in the Coastal Plain.

Although burning has slowed down, it does provide wonderful conditions for restoring Longleaf Pine on sites that were once converted into short-rotational loblolly or slash pine plantations. The land management staff has definitely been capitalizing on these conditions. In late February we planted 114 acres of containerized Longleaf seedlings on a site that is being converted from a loblolly pine plantation on the OISP. This project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundations Longleaf Stewardship Fund and was just one piece of the puzzle for a range-wide effort to restore Longleaf Pine on the landscape across its native range.

To date there have been 750 acres (453,300 seedlings) of Longleaf Pine planted on sites in which the species would have been the dominate overstory component. We are currently planning to plant another 100 acres of Longleaf in 2016 to get one step closer in the process of achieving our restoration and ecological goals. It is important to note that the sites being planted back in Longleaf are not just being “planted and forgotten.” They are being intensively managed with fire and other silvicultural practices to not only perpetuate the species but the entire native plant communities associated with this ecosystem.

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