Longleaf pine habitat is among the most diverse in the world and was the backdrop for much of the economic and cultural development of the American South. Known for the exceptional quality of their timber, longleaf pines were cut in great swaths over the last two centuries.  Insect-resistant, fire and wind tolerant, and able to grow in dry, sandy soils, these durable trees are ideally suited to the Gulf Coastal Plain.

America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative

Longleaf restoration efforts thus far have primarily been focused on public lands and relatively small acreages. To address the lack of landscape-scale longleaf restoration, America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative has a goal to restore 8 million acres of longleaf pine across its historic range by 2025. In addition to public lands and smaller non-commercial private properties, it is imperative to engage large, private timberland owners, which will require a new and creative approach.

Our Efforts

The Conservation Fund is engaged in many projects throughout the range of the longleaf pine, completing land conservation projects in nearly every state throughout the longleaf’s range. Using an innovative approach, The Conservation Fund and Resource Management Service, LLC are working together to create a landscape-scale (up to 205,000-acres) working longleaf forest in the lower Alabama/Florida panhandle region. The proposed Coastal Headwaters Forest – Longleaf Conservation and Restoration project will:

  1. Establish conservation easements which require longleaf pine restoration and protect the land as a working longleaf forest in perpetuity;
  2. Protect water quality and quantity by managing the property for longleaf pine with practices like prescribed fire and preventing conversion to more intensive uses;
  3. Support forest-related economic development in local communities and create and expand markets for longleaf pine products;
  4. Provide ecological benefits for plants and animals inherent to the longleaf ecosystem;
  5. Buffer and protect area military installations and provide potential training and mitigation opportunities; 
  6. Demonstrate that a landscape scale longleaf forest restoration and working forest model can be successful.

Approximately 70% of Coastal Headwaters Forest is currently comprised of loblolly pine, which will be replanted with longleaf as easements are completed and managed with the use of prescribed fire. The forest also supports a variety of other habitat types, from ephemeral ponds to bottomland hardwood forests, with numerous streams and creeks feeding into major rivers. Protection of this habitat benefits numerous imperiled species and conserves a wildlife corridor connecting conservation lands in Florida to those in Alabama

Coastal Headwaters Forest will also protect water quality and quantity within five major river watersheds.  Long-term protection of these watersheds and preventing conversion to more intensive land uses will help ensure continued clean, freshwater flows to critical Gulf estuaries, helping them remain productive and vibrant for years to come. The majority of the site is also with an aquifer recharge area.

Making This Happen

In 2018, The Conservation Fund made significant headway by placing a conservation easement on 3,719 acres, the first Coastal Headwaters project to be completed.  The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program and Healthy Forest Reserve Program, awarded a federal grant to The Conservation Fund for the easement, which restricts development on the property, while allowing it to remain in private ownership for sustainable timber production, benefiting the local economy and forestry jobs.

The Conservation Fund continues to work with Resource Management Service and coalition partners to secure additional federal, state, and private funding to protect the remainder of the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest. Collaboration will be the key to continued success throughout the region. And by using the Coastal Headwaters  as a model, longleaf pine will have a real chance at a comeback.

Partners

Alabama Forestry Commission
Alabama Forest Resources Center
America’s Longleaf Initiative
Alabama Power
Alabama Wildlife Federation
Atlanta Botanical Garden
Audubon Florida
E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation
Florida Defenders of Wildlife
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida Forest Service
Florida Wildlife Federation
Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership
Gulf Power
Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
National Wild Turkey Federation
National Wildlife Federation
Northwest Florida Water Management District
Ocean Foundation
Resource Management Service, LLC
Quality Deer Management Association
Saloom Properties, LLC
SERPPAS
Southern Company
The Longleaf Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service

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