Before the Southeast was settled, longleaf pines blanketed about 90 million acres. Today that number is reduced to about three million acres. But there are federal stimulus dollars targeted at restoring some of those acres in Alabama.
Dr. Dean Gjerstad, co-director of the Longleaf Alliance, Inc. and a retired professor of forestry at Auburn University, says funds will be used to enhance stands of Alabama’s state tree.
“The Longleaf Alliance working with the Alabama Forestry Commission will reestablish longleaf in several state forests as well as provide cost share assistance to landowners to restore longleaf on private lands.”
He says that the project is using local vendors on the different projects.
“We are working hard to use locals. That will keep the dollars and the jobs in Alabama.”
Gjerstad notes that outreach is a key element of the overall effort.
“We want to educate as many landowners, forestry consultants and state agency personnel about the value of longleaf pine stands and how to establish and manage them.”
The alliance is planning educational workshops, which will be held at Auburn University’s Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center near Andalusia, Ala.
Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Research Fellow Dr. John Kush and Extension specialist Dr. Becky Barlow agree with Gjerstad that more awareness is needed of the actual value of longleaf pine.
Kush notes that longleaf pine was a significant part of the nation’s and the state’s early commercial ventures.
“Longleaf pine helped build this country. It went far beyond the wood for buildings. You have to consider the volume of tar and pitch made from longleaf that was exported to Europe. It grew in every area of the state except the Black Belt and the Limestone plateau of north Alabama. Those forests provided timber to build structures across the state and country as well as tar and pitch products.”
He adds in the 21st century, longleaf may have new value as a carbon store. Research data indicates it may be better at carbon sequestration than other pines.
“Currently, we see longleaf growing better than many other species of pine. It may be better at storing carbon because it grows in nutrient deficient soils. Another benefit is that they are resistant to most beetles that can wipe out a loblolly pine stand.”
He emphasizes that the longleaf’s native ecology contributes to its potential as well.
“It is longest lived species of pine. Its growth rate is better and it can adapt to drier soil conditions.”
Barlow, who is also a forestry Extension specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, points out that longleaf pines are commonly used for poles that have twice the value of sawn lumber.
Barlow adds that longleaf pines have a place on even small acreages.
“The small landowners matter. Most family forest landowners don’t have huge tracts of land that they manage,” she says.
She points out that longleaf pines work well combined with cattle operations. “It’s a model that early settlers used, and it still works today.
“Grazing cattle can help control understory plants, which are critical in managing longleaf pines effectively, while providing landowners with additional income from their forestland.”
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