Stopping the Decline of a Once Dominant Tree
Shortleaf pine forests and pine-oak forests once formed open woodlands that were common throughout the southern and mid-Atlantic U.S. Shortleaf pine was historically important in the timber industry, but has lost more than half its acreage in the past 30 years due to pests and changes in timber management practices.
A coalition of state agencies, industry representatives and conservation groups has come together to stop the decline of shortleaf pine and bring back this once-dominant forest type.
Modern Threats to a Widespread Forest
In the last 30 years, the once-common shortleaf pine ecosystem has lost more than 50% of its acreage. The most precipitous declines have occurred east of the Mississippi River. Pine beetles and other pests and diseases decimated many shortleaf stands. Others were replaced by loblolly plantations or lost out to less fire-tolerant species as wildfires were suppressed. Efforts to protect and restore shortleaf pines are relatively new, but are gaining ground as more partners come together and recognize the tree’s importance to people and nature.
Central to an Economy and a Way of Life
Across the 22 states where it is found, the shortleaf pine provides a wide range of benefits to people and wildlife. Shortleaf pine trees have extensive and deep root systems that allow them to grow on sandier, less fertile soils than most other pines. Mature trees are excellent homes for woodpeckers and other species that inhabit cavities in the trunk. The open understory below supports a wide variety of native plants as well as small birds and mammals. Historically important for the production of paper pulp and timber, shortleaf pine continues to be an economically important tree. Shortleaf forests also help protect sandy soils from erosion in places where other species can’t grow and are thus essential to maintaining a clean water supply.
Before It’s Too Late
The work of protecting and restoring shortleaf pines is relatively new, but has made great strides. A coalition of partners, including The Nature Conservancy, has formed the Shortleaf Pine Initiative to coordinate ecosystem-wide conservation and management of shortleaf pines. Many local restoration initiatives are gaining traction through the use of prescribed fire, planting of shortleaf pines and careful timber management. For example, in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the Conservancy is working with the Ouachita National Forest and many other partners to manage more than 300,000 acres of shortleaf forests to improve their resilience and create and maintain local forestry jobs. Collaborative projects across shortleaf pine’s range are helping slow the decline and bring back this once-dominant tree.
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