Longleaf Pine forests and their associated ecosystems were once the dominant natural environment of the southeastern United States, covering approximately 90 million acres from southern Virginia to Louisiana. These ecosystems support highly diverse communities including many endemic species and are recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Unfortunately, longleaf pine forests now cover less than 3% of their historic range because of widespread deforestation and poor management that occurred after European settlement. The dramatic decline of Longleaf Pine forests combined with high fragmentation and degradation of remaining stands threatens these important forests and the animals that depend on them with extinction.
The Orianne Society’s Longleaf Savannas Initiative works to conserve and restore Longleaf Pine ecosystems in our focus landscape, the Altamaha River Corridor, through land protection and restoration, research, inventory and monitoring, and education-outreach. Active land management is particularly critical for Longleaf Pine systems because the historic fire regime has been completely removed and thus to have a functioning ecosystem, prescribed fire and other management tools are needed. Historically, Longleaf Pine forests would have experienced regular wild fires, which regulated communities by supporting fire-adapted species. To manage and restore the Longleaf Pine ecosystem prescribed fire must be applied, trees must be planted, and native groundcover has to be restored. These three “pillars” of restoration are the management steps needed to support a functioning Longleaf Pine ecosystem in today’s world.
Longleaf Pine forests support many iconic species of amphibians and reptiles, including our focal species, the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi), and the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata). These species and many others have experienced population declines coinciding with the loss of Longleaf Pine forests. To conserve these species, it is critical to understand their current distributions, habitat requirements, and life histories, which allow The Orianne Society and our partners to successfully manage their populations.