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Forests

Florida: Meet Sheldon Wilson

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that we are helping these birds, and other critters that depend on longleaf pine, while providing a good living to my employees at the same time.” Sheldon Wilson

Sheldon Wilson, owner of WCC Services in Winter Park, does not equivocate about the value of the Accelerating Longleaf Pine CFLR project.

“This forest is healthier because of the work we’ve done here, made possible by the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program.”

Over the past year his contracting firm has employed forest workers to prepare sites in the Osceola National Forest for controlled burns.

“We’ve treated thousands of acres, mulching and roller chopping the palmettos that have spread through these longleaf pine forests due to a lack of natural fires.”

The longleaf pine forest of the South once covered 90 million acres across more than a dozen states, but today is confined to 2% of its former range due to agricultural conversion, development, and commercial forest land uses. The longleaf pine forest supports one of the most life-rich systems in North America. The work Wilson’s company does is a step towards helping restore the area.

An icon of this nearly lost American forest type is the red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the most endangered birds in North America. These woodpeckers depend on the longleaf pine as a nesting tree, where they can raise their young in cavities protected from marauding snakes and other predators.

Fortunately, thinning and controlled burning projects like those in the Accelerating Longleaf Pine Restoration CFLR have proven effective in promoting the breeding success of red-cockaded woodpeckers elsewhere in the South.

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that we are helping these birds, and other critters that depend on longleaf pine, while providing a good living to my employees at the same time,” says Wilson.

In Osceola National Forest alone, about 50% of the landscape is degraded due to fire exclusion and hydrologic alterations. These practices have resulted in destructive emergency wildfires; between 1998 and 2010 wildfire suppression in the Osceola National Forest cost $31 million.

The Accelerating Longleaf Pine CFLR is an outgrowth of a larger cooperative effort, called the Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners (GOAL), formed to address the wildfire issues that have plagued the area. This association coordinates around the management of nearly 2 million acres of federal, state, and private forest lands in five counties within Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, which includes the Osceola National Forest and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

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