Longleaf pine key to Georgia’s handling of climate change

By Guest Columnist STACY SHELTON, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region

Development, dams, pollution, invasive species and water scarcity are a few of the challenges facing the survival of many fish and wildlife species today.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate them all.

In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began taking a hard look at how the changing climate – marked by warming temperatures, rising sea levels and new precipitation patterns – is and will impact the species we are charged with protecting.

Working with our partners, we developed a strategy to ensure future generations will know the red-cockaded woodpecker found in south Georgia’s longleaf pine ecosystems, or be able to watch a loggerhead sea turtle lumber up the beach to lay her eggs on one of the state’s barrier islands.

The Service is also trying to engage a broader audience in this very important conversation.

Since Earth Day, we have shared one story each weekday from a different state about climate impacts on fish and wildlife. That’s 50 stories from 50 states, told over 50 days. The Georgia story posts this Tuesday, at this link. The series ends June 30.

Georgia’s story is about how Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are working with multiple partners, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Forestry Commission, the Longleaf Alliance and private landowners, to restore portions of the majestic longleaf pine forest that once dominated more than half the state.

For many reasons, the longleaf pine is our tree of the past and the future.

In the face of accelerating climate change, it’s our best bet for several reasons. Because the longleaf pine evolved on this landscape, it is disease-resistant, thrives in frequent, low-intensity fire, and can withstand hurricane-force winds.

In its 2009 report, Standing Tall: How Restoring Longleaf Pine Can Help Prepare the Southeast for Global Warming, the National Wildlife Federation contends longleaf also should be the centerpiece of carbon sequestration efforts in the Southeast.

The report cites the long life of individual longleaf pines (up to 450 years) and their low-risk for rapidly releasing carbon due to disease or wildfires. The report also makes a credible economic argument for timber growers to choose longleaf over slash or loblolly pines, particularly in a changing climate.

For the Fish and Wildlife Service, restoring the longleaf ecosystem becomes a no-brainer when you factor in the wide array of species that depend on it.

Because of the incredible biodiversity in the grasses and herbaceous flowering plants that can grow in longleaf forests, they are home to 29 federally protected species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker. Nearly 900 plant species are found only in the longleaf ecosystem.

Last year, the Service spent about $1.2 million across the Southeast to help private landowners plant longleaf pine trees, remove invasive species, and prescribe fire to maintain forest health.

Laurie Fenwood, the Service’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative Program Coordinator calls longleaf pine the “wonder tree, because it’s good for everything. Whatever the question is, the answer is longleaf pine.”

9 replies
  1. michael says:

    Good, informative, well-written piece, Ms. Shelton….!!

    It is good to read about their healthier, more resilient nature.. funny how native plants have some real native strengths, yes? I also wondered… are the pines also more resistant to storms and high winds? Just curious…Report

    Reply
  2. a mason says:

    Have any of those stories told the opposing views to this “climate change theory” that supposes that man is destroying the planet with his energy emissions? Just curious, what are we going to do about the greatest and most destructive green house gas in volume and affect….water vapor? I agree, we should strive to take care of our natural resources; and longleaf pines have traditionally been a large part of the South East’s ecosystems so landowners would do well to plant them back after final harvests. This article is well written, however, it only includes one view and little science when it talks of “man-made climate change”. This very topic is too often tied to the fabric of one’s worldview, the same worldview that most of the media and liberals hold. I would appreciate the F & W Service allowing free and open debate on this topic for all to hear, but of course too many people have too much money tied up in this idea to allow that to happen.Report

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  3. a mason says:

    Frank,

    I know longleaf has been found naturally occurring in Lincoln Co. on the Savannah River. Also, I have seen a few in Atlanta and along I-20 in Talladega (I know that’s in AL). But mostly they are found below the Fall-Line which runs roughly from Augusta to Milledgeville to Macon to Columbus. Usually they have a hard time surviving ice storms. Say the lower Piedmont to the lower Coastal Plain. Hope that helps.Report

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  4. David W. Norton says:

    OK; In farenheight degree terms, if the whole southeastern U.S. is planted with “the answer to whatever question”, what will the average temperature be at that point in time?Report

    Reply
  5. Anne says:

    I live in a town full of scientists, who consistently tell me that the observations recorded by scientists (and residents where change is most prominent) demonstrate that we are in a period of time where temperatures are more extreme, as is the weather. I am so glad to see that responsible people are asking serious questions and looking for answers based on measurable observations. So far, the only people I see who question the scientists are not scientists.

    That said, the longleaf forest is the most beautiful pine forest I know. I’m so glad to hear that planting longleaf is becoming more viable. My father grew up in longleaf forests. I hope our future plantings include longleaf pines.Report

    Reply
  6. Atlanta/Marietta says:

    If you are interested in a good read on the subject, Janisse Ray has written a “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood”, a book which is part memoir-part nature study. She tells of growing up in south Georgia with the beauty of the longleaf pines and the endangerment of their ecosystem. Since reading the book years ago, I have come to have a strong interest and respect for a part of our state that is often overlooked.Report

    Reply

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