Longleaf Pine Forests: A Southern Treasure
These rich and vital forests once blanketed the Southeast but today less than 5 percent remains.
Species-rich longleaf pine forests once stretched across the South, nearly unbroken, from Virginia to Florida to Texas. Today less than 5 percent remains of the 90-million acre original system, which included open pine savannas with a lush understory of native grasses and groundcover.
Four of the very best remnants are in Florida’s Panhandle and continue down to the Ocala-Wekiva region. They host a remarkably diverse plant and animal community that includes some 300 bird and 2,500 plant species. Many of them depend upon a forest structure that is maintained by a frequent fire cycle.
Longleaf pine forests benefit humans as well as wildlife. They support our freshwater systems, provide natural resilience to catastrophic storms, and help sustain the regional economy.
It’s sad but true. Our remaining longleaf pine system faces many threats: fragmentation, development, improper management, and conversion to other planted pine species that don’t harbor as many species, provide lower-quality timber, require more water, and are less adapted to resist catastrophic loss due to fire, storms and forest pests.
The Conservancy is involved in a massive project – working across seven states in partnership with many agencies and organizations – to protect, restore and expand the forests. The goal is to grow the ecosystem to 8 million acres by 2025. This will require land protection, thoughtful land use planning and state-of-the-art stewardship.
As part of this effort, in Florida we lead two of four Local Implementation Teams (LIT), the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance and the Ocala LIT. These teams coordinate forest restoration and maintenance work on public and private lands in cooperation with partners.
We collaborate regularly with the U.S. Forest Service; all three of Florida’s national forests include important stands of prime pine habitat.