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In this Q & A session with Wayne Taylor, Director of Land Management, we recap The Orianne Society’s 2012 many successes, and learn more about the achievements our Land Management Team expects in 2013.

Explain the Longleaf Pine seedling collection process and its importance to site restoration.

The first step in restoring the groundcover flora on a disturbed site is to determine what plant community historically occupied the site. Once that is determined, the next step is to locate a seed-donor site with intact native groundcover that best represents the historical condition and is relatively proximal to the restoration site. The donor site must have a relatively open understory free of shrubs with low tree densities to be accessible to seed harvesting equipment. Once the donor site has been located, prescribed fire must be applied between April and July to stimulate the understory to flower and yield viable seed.

There are seed and plant material vendors and contractors if you are not able to locate a donor site and generate the seed. Direct planting is an option, however this method costs substantially more than direct-seeding, and diversity is limited by available nursery-grown plant material in suitable quantities.

There are a number of vendors who make seed harvesting equipment, or based on a similar design concept – Prairie Habitats, Inc. , AG-Renewal, Inc. – just to name a couple. Hand collecting seed will be necessary because many notable species ripen earlier than the dominant groundcover species, have lower growth habits making it difficult to reach with equipment or are less common therefore not economically feasible for machine-collection.

Conventional combines modified for harvesting native seeds is another option. Combines harvest a great deal of biomass in addition to the targeted seed. This method often yields a higher diversity seed mix because it can collect seed from low-growing plants. Some disadvantages include the destruction of pine seedlings and plants with a delayed flowering response. The other notable disadvantage is that heat generated from the decomposing biomass can destroy the seed if not distributed right away.

  Enlarge Photo
Fire maintained Longleaf Pine
photo: Dirk Stevenson

There are a number of techniques and equipment for sowing the seed collected. Seed can be dispersed by hand or a hay-blower. Specialized equipment is available – Grasslander, Truax Company, Inc. – which is built on the concept of conventional seed drills but modified to handle delicate native groundcover seed.

The US Forest Service Southern Research Station and The Southern Native Plant Restoration and Seed Increase Project offer some more background on groundcover flora restoration. An internet search of the topic will yield a wealth of information.

Why is the Longleaf Pine so crucial to the well-being of the land and wildlife like the Eastern Indigo Snake?

Historically, Longleaf Pine was the dominant tree species on the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain covering an estimated 90 million acres when Europeans settled North America. Landscape- and local-level wind (hurricanes and tornadoes) and fire events helped shape the natural communities determined by soil and climate; these events are still a common annual occurrence. The growth habits of Longleaf pine – open-crown, long taproot – and fire adaptations – grass-stage, thick bark, and long needles – make it more resilient to these events thus translating to a more economic option for long-term forest health and sustainability.

Perhaps more important to wildlife are the understory plants associated with Longleaf pine. Throughout its range, Longleaf Pine is associated with a grass-dominated understory therefore it is more accurate to broadly refer to these natural communities as a savanna or grassland. Beyond the limits of soil and climate, fire was the process that maintained the open park-like conditions which Longleaf Pine savannas are noted and fire promoted the diversity and high endemism of the fauna and herbaceous flora. High endemism and species diversity of the flora is an indicator of a long relationship of this landscape with fire that predates humans. More specifically, synchronous fall-flowering and seed viability of many of these understory species is evidence of a long history of fires started by lightning in late spring and early summer. In short, fire creates the habitat structure and food sources which many rare and declining fauna depend for survival, including the endangered Eastern Indigo Snake.

What is the whole cost of planting an acre of Longleaf? And the overall cost of Land Management per acre, including controlled burns, etc.

Establishment costs include both site preparation and planting. First, the site must be prepared to ensure survival of Longleaf Pine seedlings and the desired future condition of the site. The long-term objectives for the site and its current condition will determine the method(s) of site preparation. Costs will vary depending on the chosen method of mechanical, chemical and fire or any combination of those most common practices and are unique to each site.

Planting costs will depend on the planting density you choose based on the objectives established for the site. Planting densities to meet objectives for natural community restoration may range from 400 to 1200 trees per acre. A planting density of 600-700 trees per acre is common if maximizing an economic return is the primary objective for the site. The costs for containerized Longleaf Pine seedlings range from $170 to more than $200 per thousand. Hand-planting costs typically range from $0.08 to $0.10 per seedling. Machine planting costs may range from $30-60 per acre. Bare-root seedlings are less expensive but present additional considerations and challenges to planting success, long-term survival, quality and yield which generally outweigh the difference in establishment costs.

  Enlarge Photo
Fire maintained Longleaf Pine
photo: Dirk Stevenson

What are the main obstacles to Land Management that must be overcome on a near-daily basis?

One of the biggest obstacles can also be one of the greatest allies – weather. When suitable conditions are presented, we must be ready to apply prescribed fire over any other duty. Weather affects the ability to prepare firebreaks and the maintenance of access roads critical to all aspects of conservation work. Missed opportunities to apply prescribed fire result in delays in habitat restoration which prolong the recovery of wildlife populations.

Beyond weather, adequate funding to support fire management is the main obstacle. Trained, qualified and experienced people are the greatest asset to a successful land management program. Retaining personnel is critical to building a High Reliability Organization and ensures success in meeting conservation goals. Personnel require annual training to maintain and enhance qualifications and skills to build capacity and reduce risk. Fire equipment is expensive; maintenance of the equipment is expensive; fuel to operate the equipment is expensive; and insurance to protect against liability is expensive. The threat of wildfires will be a constant presence on the Coastal Plain because of the large human population, the incidence of lightning and the density of vegetation produced by a long growing season and a favorable climate. Because of risk, however, wildfires must be suppressed.

Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health and reduce wildfire risk. Without prescribed fire, there can be no long-term conservation of Longleaf Pine, the diverse understory and rare and endangered wildlife that call the Longleaf Pine savanna home.

Please share your expectations for Land Management activity in 2013.

We hope to apply prescribed fire 60-80 days in the coming fire season. This goal will translate to 6000 to 8000 acres of land including public and private partners and the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve with objectives ranging from site preparation to plant Longleaf Pine to maintenance of intact sites. This will not only include the execution of the prescribed fire but also the preparation of firebreaks and monitoring of prescribed fires to ensure containment and that they meet objectives.

In addition, we will continue to provide support for a groundcover restoration project on 150 acres of private land and, in the near term, we will plant 312,000 Longleaf Pine seedlings on the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve. All of these activities are supported by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Land Management Program serves a critical support role by maintaining housing facilities and infrastructure critical to other programs. The Land Management program also leads the public outreach effort in the vicinity of the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve.

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