Hurricanes and other major storms cause billions of dollars of damage to southern timber resources. If you add the increased risk of wildfire, insect infestations, and disease that accompany downed wood, you have millions of acres of forests vulnerable to further harm.
In some areas of the South, one idea for reducing the vulnerability of forests to disturbance involves recreating the ecosystems that existed before they were replaced by loblolly pine plantations. In areas where hurricanes occur, this can mean planting longleaf pine, a species which once covered over 92 million acres in the southeastern United States, but now occupies less than 3 percent of its original range. It’s even been suggested that managers and landowners take advantage of the damage caused by hurricanes to advance conversions on sites that have been planted with loblolly pine in the past.
Loblolly pine historically grew in moister areas without much fire, but was widely planted in early reforestation efforts on drier and more fire-prone sites, where longleaf pine — better adapted to fire — once dominated. Longleaf pine has also been found to be more resistant to damage from southern pine beetle, a native insect that has inflicted over $1.5 billion in damages during the past decade. One strategy currently promoted by the Forest Service is to replant longleaf pine in areas where southern pine beetle has destroyed loblolly and other pines.
In response to the growing need for information about longleaf pine ecosystems, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) established the Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems unit. Directed by project leader Jim Guldin, the unit includes scientists with expertise in plant physiology, ecology, silviculture, and biometrics. Unit scientists contribute long-term research findings and practical information on both natural and artificial regeneration of longleaf pine and on restoring the understory plants that play an essential role in longleaf pine ecosystems. The unit has developed a web page on longleaf pine restoration and hurricane recovery that includes specific prescriptions for restoring longleaf pine ecosystems.
“It should be stressed that ecological restoration does not mean returning an ecosystem to conditions that prevailed at an earlier time in history,” says Dale Brockway, research ecologist with the SRS longleaf pine unit. “Rather, ecological restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability.” The principle goal is to improve (and re-establish where necessary) the composition, structure and functions of an ecosystem, so that its productivity, diversity and many life-support processes or “ecosystem services” will be sustained to benefit present and future generations.
For more information, email Dale Brockway at firstname.lastname@example.org.