Sustaining longleaf pine forest is its goal
Conserving the longleaf pine forests that exist and expand within its original range in the Southeast United States is the goal of an alliance formed to promote the importance of this diverse ecosystem. The Longleaf Alliance shared its goals and information with its members when they came to Alexandria in October for the organization’s 12th biennial Longleaf Conference. Louisiana is the western edge of the historic longleaf pine forests of the Southeast. Estimates of 92 million acres once stretched across the landscape from Virginia to East Texas. “It’s one of the reasons England wanted to colonize (what would become the United States),” said Dr. Salem Saloom, who has a tree farm in Alabama and attended the conference. He said longleaf was a wonderful resource for chemicals for naval stores and timber value. During colonization is when the decline in longleaf pine forests began. Now less than 5 million acres are left. Robert Abernethy, president of The Longleaf Alliance, said the goal is to increase that acreage to 8.5 million by 2025. Most of the longleaf pine forests in Louisiana exist on federal land. The challenge for efforts to increase the acreage of longleaf pine forests is expanding the range on private forest landowners property. Landowners want to generate income with their property enabling them to afford to sustain the forest ecosystems. Because longleaf pine takes longer to reach the thinning stage, it is more challenging to generate income. “It’s the economics of pulpwood,” Abernethy said. Loblolly pine is a more often used species because it can be thinned in only 15 years. Longleaf pine can remain in its grass stage for two to five years. “In the short term, they (landowners) will likely make less money with longleaf,” Abernethy said. In the long term, however, with a more diverse effort, landowners can do well. One example is David Daigle, a forest landowner and lover of longleaf pines in Beauregard Parish. Daigle’s property was included in a daylong tour for the conference participants. His enjoyment and pride in his land is evident as he tells about how he rotates grazing of his cattle, using prescribed burning for understory control and increasing herbaceous plants for his cattle to graze upon. The cattle and longleaf go together, he told his audience, because the large animals mimic what American bison did centuries earlier, helping to return nutrients to the soil. There are other ways to use the land for potential income as well, Abernethy said, such as harvesting longleaf pine straw, for example. The practice is considerable in the eastern range. “Straw markets are not as developed in the western range of longleaf,” Abernethy said, although he added that truckloads of it are shipped to the Dallas area from the Carolinas every year. Landscaping companies prefer longleaf pine straw, he said, because the needles are longer, it doesn’t take as much straw to cover a large area and they fluff up better. “Longleaf straw lasts longer and retains its red color longer,” Abernethy said. Whatever the forest landowner decides, he said, also depends on the cost sharing opportunities available. “If you can get cost share at 75 percent or 90 percent, that’s a big reason to get your trees in the ground,” he said. Daigle, for example, participates in a program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. Forest Service. There also are programs in Florida and Alabama that allow landowners to designate some acreage as mitigation banks, which would allow landowners to negotiate with developers to designate habitat for certain endangered or threatened species, which is another issue with which landowners need to contend. “How do we turn it around and how is society going to reimburse this fellow who has endangered species, for having these animals on property, and limiting what they can do?” Abernethy asked rhetorically. What it all boils down to, however, is the objectives of the landowner, Abernethy said. The Longleaf Alliance wants to help with education and direction to programs available. “I want to make landowners successful,” Abernethy said. “If they want longleaf, if they like that landscape ... if they want to be the restoration of the southern longleaf landscape ... if you want to do this, here’s what you have to do.” The organization’s conference held in Alexandria this year allowed many members a first-time look at the longleaf landscape in Louisiana. Some attendees of the tour of Daigle’s property were impressed with how he has incorporated cattle production with forestry. They also were impressed by efforts of the U.S. Forest Service lands in Vernon Parish. Attendees also enjoyed a trip to Long Leaf for a visit to the Southern Forest Heritage Museum on the opening evening of the conference. A tour of the exhibits was given, and the evening ended with dinner and music. Abernethy said he’s heard many good remarks about how attendees enjoyed the conference, especially the food. “If you have bad food (at a conference), everybody talks about the food. If you have great food, everybody talks about how good the conference was,” Abernethy said with a laugh. The overall response had members of the alliance eager to return. Saloom, an alliance member almost since its inception in 1995, said the organization will continue its mission to promote and sustain longleaf pine forests not only for the tree but for its ecosystem, which is important to all the stakeholders. Who are those stakeholders? “We’re all stakeholders,” Saloom said. They include people who don’t own forest land but benefit from the clean water, clean air, wildlife, as well as the benefits of the timber in forest products everyone uses. All are connected to forests, Saloom said. Principally, however, it comes down to the landowner and his or her objective to using the forest. “They need to educate themselves about longleaf and get good resource advice,” Saloom said, which can be done through state and federal agencies. Consulting foresters, too, need to listen to the objectives of the landowner to be sure the best species of trees are being planted for the soils that are available on a forest landowner’s property, he added. If the soil is conducive and the landowner seeks rich wildlife presence, longleaf pine might be a better choice than loblolly, Saloom said. “If you’re looking at the economics of longleaf versus loblolly over the life of the stand,” Saloom said, “longleaf has a 70 percent success (for pole production) compared to loblolly at 17 to 20 percent.” It’s up to the landowner.