New report advocates restoration of longleaf pine forests in Southeast

New report advocates restoration of longleaf pine forests in Southeast

New Bern, NC – INTRO - A new report says restoring the Southeast's stands of longleaf pines could help the region deal with the effects of global warming while providing economic benefit. George Olsen has more.

The North Carolina State Toast opens with the line "Here's to the land of the Long Leaf Pine" which it once truly was, as it was throughout the South.

"Longleaf pine and the longleaf pine ecosystem was once one of the dominant systems in the continental U-S. It spanned 90 million acres stretching from southeast Virginia along the coastal plain over to east Texas and it was really the pine that built the South."

Eric Palola, a senior director of the Forest for Wildlife program at the National Wildlife Federation. Today that span of 90 million acres is down to about 3 million acres, damaged by clear-cutting practices to turn the land over to agricultural use or replaced by other faster growing pine species such as loblolly or slash. A new report from the National Wildlife Federation entitled "Standing Tall" is advocating a return to the days when long leaf was a predominant species in the forest.

"Much of the pine that we see across the South is in the form of pine plantations which ecologically is more simple than the forest they replaced. Unfortunately, those plantations while they contribute important fiber for wood chip and pulp markets have really replaced the native pine which grew up in the geological span of the southeast region and is uniquely adapted to deal with some of the stresses that are both natural in terms of coastal storms and fire but uniquely adapted to some of the stressors climate change will bring to the southeast."

Palola talks of models that say average temperatures in the South will increase by 4 to10 degrees by 2080, prompting more drought and increasing the strength of Atlantic hurricanes, amongst effects. Palola says the long leaf pine is better suited to the type of climate change some scientists predict for the southern U-S.

"One of the things that many plantation land owners experienced because of Hurricane Katrina and some of the other big storms was their loblolly plantations were literally flattened by the wind and the economic value of those stands went down overnight. Long leaf has been seen to resist these sorts of storms, it has a very long lateral tap root, it's been measured to stand up in these storms much better and even if they get tipped over they don't lose their economic value as opposed to completely snapped and laid on the ground as they saw with some of the loblolly and slash pine."

Palola adds the long leaf ecosystem is a "fire dependent system" which "actually thrives and regenerates based on low-intensity frequent fires" which means long leaf would have been more resistant to the type of wildfires that plagued Myrtle Beach in 2009. Beyond the climate change and severe weather advantages, Palola says planting long leaf pine stands can have economic benefits in market driven ways such as higher value saw timber from a greater percentage of long leaf stands than loblolly or slash pines and sales of pine straw plus possible payments depending on future global warming legislation for carbon sequestration.

"There are discussions going on within the Senate Agriculture Committee now about creating a kind of incentive, so both these payment approaches for offsets, for additional sequestration as well as for maintaining existing carbon, they bode well for longleaf in part because the South has high tree growth rates compared to forests in other parts of the country and because long leaf in particular does a good job of storing carbon in the long term. Those are some of the avenues for carbon to assist landowners."

Palola says some long leaf restoration is already occurring, sometimes in surprising places such as Department of Defense lands. He says Fort Bragg has a long leaf management effort ongoing. The truly tricky part according to Palola is much of the land base is in private hands both small and large landholders each of whom will need to be reached out to and educated on the advantages of longleaf restoration. The National Wildlife Federation's initial goal is to expand the current 3-and-a-half million acres of long leaf to 8 million within 15 years. I'm George Olsen.