U.S. Forest Service and Partners Take Steps to Restore Alabama’s Forests

Release Date: May 8, 2014  

Contact(s): Eugene Brooks/Dagmar Thurmond - 334-832-4470, Tim Mersmann – 334-222-2555

Four men examining the needles of a pine treeMontgomery, AL (May 8, 2014) ---The U.S. Forest Service is part of a cooperative effort to revive the longleaf pine tree throughout Alabama forests. The partnership that reaches across a broad spectrum of landscape from the coastal plains to the northern mountains is essential, not only to the long-term recovery of the longleaf, but also to other important forestry goals.

The longleaf pine (Pinus Palustris Mill), a hearty tree native to Alabama and much of the southeast was harvested during the early years of settlement and agricultural expansion that characterized the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now, the Forest Service and numerous partners under the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (ALRI) are cooperating to restore longleaf forests because of the tree’s ability to evolve and adapt to fire management.  Longleaf pine forest is tolerant to insects, disease and storms.  Frequent fires encouraged the development of a rich, native ground cover that includes many flowers, grasses and seed-bearing plants that increase the longleaf forest’s ability to provide food and habitat for wildlife. The many species of plants and animals that evolved with longleaf pine and frequent fires make it one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

The ALRI is a collaborative effort that began in 2007 under the leadership of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The range-wide partnership serves as an umbrella of state, federal, and local land management organizations, universities and private landowners who are bringing back longleaf ecosystems across nine southern states.  

Alabama is a big player where local longleaf implementation teams have already reported over 62,000 acres of longleaf restoration work in the Conecuh and Talladega National Forests. According to Steve Lohr, forest supervisor for Alabama’s national forests, restoration to longleaf is well underway in Alabama where there are over 670,000 acres in the national forests, much of which is appropriate for the reconstitution of longleaf habitat. The Conecuh National Forest alone is composed of almost 84,000 acres, of which about 55,000 acres are suitable for longleaf development, according to district ranger Tim Mersmann. With the focus of sustained restoration efforts in 2013, “the Bankhead, Talladega and Tuskegee National Forests made great strides in the restoration process,” Lohr said, citing strong success on the Conecuh where the restoration process needs only 5,000 to 10,000 more acres to reach the goal.

The Alabama Longleaf Ecosystem Restoration Team (ALERT) is one implementation team that the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is another key partner in providing technical assistance and outreach to private landowners.  “Since 2012, NRCS in Alabama has invested over $4.5 million in assistance to forest landowners who plant or restore longleaf pine forest,” said State Conservationist Dr. William Puckett.  Over 25,000 privately owned acres have been reestablished to longleaf pine providing habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, northern bobwhite quail and gopher tortoise.  These forests can offer economic as well as environmental benefits.

The Forest Service remains committed to working with partners and communities to restore longleaf pine and will take the following 8 steps to create healthy forests in Alabama:  1) Use controlled fire to renew vegetation growth and remove excess debris that fuel wildfire;  2) Manage forest lands that provide habitat for wildlife, clean air and water resources; 3) Plant native trees, such as longleaf pine seedlings that have a natural resistance to wildfire, wind, disease and the southern pine beetle; 4) Manage understory plants to reduce non-native invasive species such as cogongrass and kudzu that displace native plants essential for wildlife; 5) Manage aquatic biodiversity by altering conditions to ensure construction projects conform to habitat maintenance standards; 6) Conduct forest inventories to collect forest information for analysis; 7)  Implement Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to enhance ecosystem management; and 8) Expand partnerships by encouraging members of the public to care for the environment by planting trees or volunteering. For more information on the U.S. Forest Service 8 Steps to a Healthier Forest visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5440724.pdf.

To view or download the ALRI report to the ALRI partnership website:  http://www.americaslongleaf.org/resources/2013-range-wide-accomplishment-report-and-executive-summary/