The National Wild Turkey Federation and its partners are working hard to restore the South’s most unique ecosystem — the longleaf pine — to areas in and near fort Stewart in Georgia.
Georgia — The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) continues to make restoring the longleaf pine – one of America’s most endangered ecosystems – a priority.
The NWTF recently signed a conservation agreement with the Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield (HAAF) Partnership for Longleaf Pine Restoration to help restore the longleaf pine to areas in and near Fort Stewart in southeastern Georgia.
More than 271,000 containerized longleaf pine seedlings will be planted on 678 acres of federal, public and private lands surrounding Fort Stewart. Containerized seedlings are grown in containers in a nursery and are planted with soil still attached to their roots. They have an extended planting season and better survival and growth rates when planted in the winter or fall than bare-root seedlings or seedlings without containers.
“This agreement is an excellent example of cooperative conservation,” said NWTF Senior Wildlife Biologist Lynn Lewis-Weis. “No single group can perform the enormous task of conservation, but we can make positive changes to our nation’s resources by working together.”
Longleaf pine forests are an important and diverse habitat that is home to 26 federally listed endangered species such as the indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise. Longleaf pine can grow in landscapes that are poor, sandy and well-drained and are often more suitable for these sites than other tree species.
Fort Stewart, the largest armor training base east of the Mississippi River, covers 280,000 acres including parts of Liberty, Long, Tattnall, Evans and Bryan counties. As part of Fort Stewart’s own longleaf program, more than 825 acres of longleaf pine have been planted since 1997.
Partners of the Fort Stewart/HAAF Partnership for Longleaf Pine Restoration involved in this project include the Georgia Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Georgia Department of Transportation and Chatham County.
Though the longleaf pine covered more than 90 million acres of America’s landscape at the time of European colonization, today, longleaf pine forests have been reduced to only 3 million acres nationwide due to pasture and cropland conversion, landowners planting other pine species for timber and the absence of fire, on which longleaf is dependant.
The NWTF and Georgia Pacific have partnered to restore thousands of acres of longleaf pines on both public and private land in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi through a $1.1 million grant from Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The planting project in and near Fort Stewart is a portion of that grant project.
“The value of longleaf pines for both wildlife and timber production is tremendous,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, the NWTF’s senior vice president of conservation programs. “It’s a valuable addition to property managed for multiple uses and will help make the areas in and near Fort Stewart great habitat for many species of wildlife, including wild turkeys.”
Longleaf pine forests allow prescribed fire to be introduced earlier and more often than other species of pine trees, which reduces the chance for wildfires and maintains grasses and other wildlife friendly plants. Another advantage is that numerous federal and state programs supplement the costs associated with planting and managing longleaf pines.
“With programs designed to help landowners, planting longleaf pine trees is a win-win situation for conservation, hunters, landowners and wildlife,” Kennamer said.
In addition to planting longleaf pine seedlings, the cooperative agreement also provides for the planting of wiregrass, a groundcover native to the area, and conducting prescribed burns to manage undergrowth in the newly planted pine stands.
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