The United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will have $10.6 million in funding available to aid forest managers working to restore longleaf ecosystems on private lands in nine states, including Mississippi. Longleaf pine forests nearly vanished, but a coordinated conservation effort, led by USDA and other conservation partners, is helping this unique ecosystem of the Southeast recover.
“USDA is committed to working with land managers to help restore and expand this critical ecosystem,” stated Kurt Readus, NRCS state conservationist in Mississippi. “Longleaf pine forests provide vital habitat to a variety of species as well as valuable timber.”
During the past two centuries, development, timbering and fire suppression reduced the ecosystem’s range by almost 97 percent. Longleaf forests once dominated the coastal plains of the Southeast. There are 29 threatened and endangered species that depend on these forests for survival. Two specific species are found in Mississippi, the gopher tortoise and black pine snake.
The NRCS’ Longleaf Pine Initiative (LLPI) is now in its sixth year and has helped restore more than 240,000 acres of longleaf forests nationally. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners and land managers plant longleaf as well as manage longleaf forests through practices like prescribed burning.
Longleaf trees are resistant to fire, and prescribed burning mimics a natural process that once enabled them to thrive. Additionally, fire gives life to a fresh understory of plants that provides food for wildlife.
Longleaf forests benefit both wildlife and land managers. Longleaf pine trees, while slower growing than other pines like loblolly, provide highly valuable timber. Longleaf pine straw has also become a popular landscaping material.
Assistance is available to land managers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Interested landowners are encouraged to contact their local USDA service center.