SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT LONGLEAF PINE?
December 20, 2009
issue this century has raised as much public controversy, hype from all
sides, and political maneuvering as global warming, aka climate change.
A set of private email messages recently acquired from computers in Britain
has further exacerbated the disagreements, leading skeptics to declare
that "global warming is a hoax" and scientists to declare that
"the hoax is a hoax."
for the sake of this column, that global climate change is a genuine threat,
a recent publication by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sets forth
some intriguing ideas about a tree that might help ameliorate the ill
effects of such change. The article is titled "Standing Tall: How
Restoring Longleaf Pine Can Help Prepare the Southeast for Global Warming."
pine, one of the great trees of the southern United States, is impressive
in many ways. My daughter brought over a longleaf pine needle she found
last week in her yard. It was 18 inches long! Longleaf pine cones are
also appreciably bigger than other southern pines. A friend from up north
filled her suitcase with cones from our front yard for her return home
before Christmas one year. As she explained, "If I tried to buy these
in New York City they would cost $10 apiece."
On the disheartening
side, exploitation of the trees for timber in the previous century resulted
in elimination of 97 percent of the country's longleaf pine habitat. The
forests once covered 90 million acres of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal
Plain. The destruction of this once abundant native tree is reprehensible,
not something timber companies and others involved in its loss should
be proud of. Of course, some might argue that all U.S. residents were
complicit in that loss and therefore "involved" at some level.
to the NWF article, a chance for redemption is on the horizon. Recolonization
of the southern landscape with longleaf pine would be beneficial because
such forests "are naturally resilient to climate extremes in the
Southeast." The publication states that "global warming puts
southeastern forests at risk, . . . [and] re-establishing longleaf pine
ecosystems will benefit all Americans by improving climate resilience,
economic opportunity, and ecosystem vitality."
states that as a consequence of "global warming pollution,"
the Southeast will be the recipient of numerous changes in climate, such
as increases in environmental temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns
(with "more severe storms" and drought in different areas),
and a rise in sea levels. The cumulative effects of the climate changes
are expected to stress natural communities and ecosystems at many levels.
The article emphasizes that "communities and governments [will be
forced] to rethink how we manage our forests, water supply, and other
natural resources" as we are confronted with more frequent and more
severe weather events. It makes the case that among native trees, longleaf
pines are notably long-lived, persist under both wet and dry environmental
conditions, and are among the most fire-tolerant trees in the Southeast.
Other desirable traits of longleaf pines include being more resistant
to insect pests and producing a wood that is hardy and long-lasting.
But Ken McLeod,
a forest ecologist with the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology
Laboratory, notes that although "longleaf was once the dominant pine
in the Southeast, it has largely been replaced by loblolly" because
loblolly was "a species much easier to grow" as a commercial
crop. "Longleaf's beneficial characteristics are most strongly expressed
at older ages, well beyond what a normal silvicultural rotation length
would be." Such economic considerations will no doubt come into play
in proposed reforestation projects when the issue of balancing commercial
pine production against restoration of natural longleaf pine habitats
out about efforts to promote replanting of longleaf pine and enhancing
forest management programs, including incentives for private property
owners, see "Official Release of the Range-wide Conservation Plan
for Longleaf Pine" at www.americaslongleaf.org.
My daughter and I enjoy having specimens of these magnificent trees in
our yards. So without even putting the question of global warming into
the mix, we think returning a substantial portion of the landscape to
longleaf pine forests seems like a good idea.
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