Date of this Version
Fire Science Brief, Issue 30, January 2009
At the time of European settlement, the longleaf pine ecosystem dominated the southeastern landscape. Lightning strikes and the use of fi re by Native Americans maintained this habitat as an open savanna with a grassy forest fl oor that supported a great diversity of wildlife. Once considered the most commercially valuable species in its range, it was extensively harvested and replaced with faster growing species such as loblolly pine. By the 20th century, the longleaf pine ecosystem was so reduced that today, it is considered endangered. As of 2004, only 15 documented old-growth stands of longleaf pine forest remained in the tree’s historic range. Of these 15 stands, only fi ve were considered virgin, unlogged forest. In January 2008, one of these forest remnants became lumber as a small stand of old-growth longleaf pine, with some trees nearly 300 years old, was commercially clear cut and the stumps removed. The site, Flomaton Natural Area in Escambia County, Alabama, had been the subject of 15 years of research on restoring fi re to the ecosystem. Prescribed fi re, which was used until 1950 by private landowners to maintain this remnant forest, was reintroduced to Flomaton beginning in 1995. Four prescribed burns over a period of seven years, combined with removal of hardwoods and mowing, succeeded in reducing fuels and promoted longleaf pine seedling recruitment. In addition, about 40 native herbaceous species regenerated from the seedbank. Though the clear-cut removed Flomaton from the list of old-growth longleaf pine forests, the research efforts demonstrate that carefully applied, low-intensity fi re can restore not just the tree, but a richly diverse ecosystem closer to the historic conditions of longleaf pine savanna.