The Nature Conservancy and Norfolk Southern Partner on Virginia’s Largest Longleaf Pine Planting
Project marks important chapter for longleaf pine forest recovery in the Commonwealth
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA | January 08, 2014
The Nature Conservancy, Norfolk Southern, and other partners finished 2013 with the completion of a 525-acre planting of one of Virginia’s rarest forest trees—longleaf pine—in Sussex County. The project marks the largest-ever longleaf pine restoration project in Virginia.
Historically one of the most common tree species across much of southeastern Virginia and now restricted to just more than several thousand acres, longleaf is sometimes referred to as “the tree that built Tidewater” because of its important economic role in colonial times. The recent planting marks a big step forward toward recovery of Virginia’s once-magnificent longleaf forests.
“We are excited to continue our commitment to longleaf pine restoration with our support for this project and we’re pleased to work with a great collaborator like TNC in nurturing this beautiful and ecologically valuably species here in Virginia,” said Norfolk Southern’s Chief Sustainability Officer Blair Wimbush.
Over the week of Dec. 16, a team of 12 hired planters planted roughly 326,550 seedlings on land owned by William Owen near the village of Yale. Over time the trees could grow to be 150 feet tall and 300 years of age—they are the longest-living southern pine species. The planting area is adjacent to a 1,400-acre conservation easement that Owen previously donated to The Nature Conservancy and is located in the “Raccoon Creek Pinelands,” which is a high-priority longleaf restoration area.
“There has been a surge of interest in restoring longleaf pine throughout its nine-state range, and especially in Virginia,” said Brian van Eerden, Southern Rivers Project Director for The Nature Conservancy. “In 100 years, when we look at the success of Virginia’s longleaf pine recovery, this project will certainly be a big part of the start of that story.”
Norfolk Southern is a leader in forest conservation in the southeastern United States and maintains 6,200 acres of longleaf at the Brosnan Forest wildlife preserve near Charleston, S.C. The Nature Conservancy supports longleaf management on 1,200 acres across southeastern Virginia, including at its Piney Grove Preserve, located several miles east of the William Owen tract.
Other major partners in this project include the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Longleaf pine forests once covered more than 90 million acres of North America. Now only 3.4 million acres, or three percent of the original forests, are left, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Not only will the Raccoon Creek Pinelands planting help filter out nutrients and sediments from the Nottoway River—which supplies the drinking water for the Norfolk region—but it can also provide critical habitat for a variety of animal species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, Virginia’s rarest bird.
“It has been a privilege working closely with The Nature Conservancy and other agencies over the past 12 years to restore longleaf pine and its wonderful habitat on my property,” Owen said. “Their support has helped make my dream of building a longleaf forest a reality.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.