Longleaf Stewardship Center

The Orianne Society’s conservation efforts in the Longleaf Savannas are centered around the Longleaf Stewardship Center (LSC).  The LSC is a nexus to bring staff, volunteers, and partners together to implement conservation of Longleaf Pine ecosystems.  First, the LSC serves as a preserve that is an important home for many rare species such as Gopher Tortoises, Eastern Indigo Snakes, and Spotted Turtles.  Second, it is the base of operations for our Gopher Tortoise Strike Team that works to manage and restore Longleaf habitats throughout the region.  Third, it is a center to train and house volunteers while working on rare species surveys and habitat restoration projects.  Finally, it is a place where we hold trainings for professionals and staff from partnering organizations to help build capacity for implementing rare species conservation and habitat management.

The Orianne Society is one of the leaders in Longleaf habitat restoration and management in Georgia.  Our Gopher Tortoise Strike team works as an integral part of the Georgia Interagency burn team to restore and manage habitat on both private and public land across the state.  One of the primary tools we use is prescribed fire.  Fire is an essential part of longleaf pine ecosystems, and without it, forest floors become overrun with shrubs and vines, crowding out native wildlife such as Gopher Tortoises. We use fire extensively to restore and maintain Longleaf forests to an open savanna-like structure.  We also ensure that these savannas have natural tree structure by removing pine species that do not naturally occur in sandhill habitat, and by planting hundreds of thousands of Longleaf Pines..  Additionally, we are significantly increasing our capacity to do groundcover restoration to ensure that these savannas have an understory of native grasses and wildflowers.  Finally, we use fire to restore wetlands by ensuring they do not get too overgrown and remain in good conditions rare species such as Gopher Frogs, Flatwoods Salamanders, and Striped Newts.

Prescribed burn – Tracy Karplus

The Orianne Society recognizes the importance of Gopher Tortoises as providing habitat for rare species and as a critical component of habitat in Longleaf Pine forests.  Over 350 species of wildlife are known to use the burrows that Gopher Tortoises create, and many of those species absolutely depend on tortoise burrows.  As such, we have an active Gopher Tortoise conservation program.  First, we work on Gopher Tortoise inventory and monitoring work across south Georgia.  Second, we work with private landowners to translocate Gopher Tortoises that would otherwise be entombed and die when land is cleared and developed.  We translocate those tortoises to public and private properties to bolster existing populations and reestablish populations that have been lost.  Finally, we have plans to build a Gopher Tortoise husbandry facility at the Longleaf Stewardship Center that will be used in translocation or for potential head-start projects.

Gopher Tortoise – Pete Oxford

The Orianne Society is the leading nonprofit working with private landowners on Longleaf Savanna restoration and management.  Georgia has relatively little public land compared to other states, very little of which consists of Longleaf Pine habitat. Thus our work with private landowners is critical for restoring the Longleaf Savannas in the region.  For the last decade, we have worked with dozens of private landowners helping them restore habitats using Longleaf planting, prescribed fire, and groundcover restoration.  In addition, we have partnered with the US Natural Resources Conservation Service to increase private lands conservation by linking private landowners to a Gopher Tortoise and Longleaf specific cost-share program aimed at increasing and improving habitat for all species.

Landowner event – Houston Chandler

Assessing the distribution and abundance of priority species is an important component to planning conservation and habitat restoration. Through our Science Initiative, we work with a variety of partners to inventory and monitor populations of Gopher Tortoises, Eastern Indigo Snakes, Spotted Turtles, Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes, Alligator Snapping Turtles, and other vulnerable reptiles and amphibians. While that work is widespread across South Georgia and elsewhere in the Southeast, much of it is based at the Longleaf Stewardship Center, where we house seasonal technicians, store survey equipment, and also conduct some of the species surveys. For example, assessing changes in the abundance and distribution of Gopher Tortoises over time at the LSC allows us to gauge the success of our habitat restoration efforts, determine future needs, and also plan when and where we can place groups of tortoises translocated from development projects nearby.

Eastern Indigo Snake – Ben Stegenga