Restoring the Giants of the Southeast
Two centuries ago, towering longleaf pine forests covered much of the U.S. Southeast—stretching from Virginia into the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, through Alabama and Mississippi and deep into Texas and Louisiana. They fueled a growing economy and supported an unmatched abundance of plant and animal life. Decimated by unsustainable logging practices and permanent conversion to other land uses like agriculture and industrial tree crops, only a shadow of this historical forest remains.
But thanks to restoration efforts across the region, longleaf pine forests are starting to struggle back from the brink. Over the past 10 years, for the first time since the Civil War, declines in longleaf pine have been reversed. Learn more about our work restoring longleaf pine throughout its range.
From Dominance to Decimation
At its peak, America’s longleaf pine forests covered more than 92 million acres—an area nearly as large as the state of California. But by the turn of the 20th century, most mature longleaf had been cut. By the 1990’s the iconic southern “piney woods” had become one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America—with about 3 million acres remaining. Finally, the tide is beginning to turn for longleaf forests. Last year marked the first time since monitoring began that the total longleaf acreage in the Southeast has grown—topping 4 million acres.
The Heart of the Forest
Longleaf pine forests are among the world’s most biologically diverse, home to 300 species of birds and 2,500 species of plants. There is no forested ecosystem outside of the tropics that can claim higher biodiversity. Notable species include the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, rare gopher tortoises and carnivorous plants. Longleaf pine forests benefit humans as well as wildlife. They maintain and protect healthy rivers, springs and aquifers, provide natural resilience to catastrophic storms and help sustain the regional economy. Much of the remaining longleaf pine can be found on national forests and Department of Defense installations, where it provides optimal training conditions and security against wildfires that can be a byproduct of military training.
The Critical Role of Fire
Fire is essential to maintaining longleaf pine forests. It stimulates seed germination and plant growth on the forest floor while reducing competition from less fire-proof invaders. In managed forests, controlled fire continues its vital role in the life cycles of the plants and animals that depend on it. Fire also benefits public safety by removing dry tinder that can add intensity to wildfires that threaten human communities.
The Nature Conservancy and partners are dedicated to the goal of restoring longleaf to a total area of 8 million acres by 2024. The Conservancy is one of the largest private landowners of longleaf pine, with more than 156,000 acres under management through ownership or easement across the nine states. We are conducting restoration projects in all nine states of the historic range. At these sites, the Conservancy is planting trees, removing invasive species and using prescribed fire to help longleaf forests stay healthy and begin to expand. We also work with other private landowners, with the Department of Defense and with the forest industry to help develop and implement strategies for conserving and restoring longleaf.
Help us bring back longleaf forests across the South—and with them restore important plant and animal habitats, protect fresh water and sustain the economy.