by Andrew Saunders – May 2015
The large, majestic Longleaf Pine trees in our 35-acre restoration preserve are 80 to 120 years old. But the Longleaf Pine tree is only a part of the story of a Longleaf Forest. The Longleaf Forest is a giant living thing from the ground into the sky with elaborate connections between arrays of plants and animals. The Longleaf Forest is a distinct and beautiful ecosystem. As slanting sunlight is allowed onto the forest floor by the unique, high-canopy architecture of Longleaf, understory grasses and flowers abound-bird life and ground-bound critters abound.
In 2003, when MBG began systematic restoration management of our preserve, the woods were choked with hardwood thicket throughout the understory. If we had not undertaken our restoration work, the existing pine trees would have survived for decades more, but they would have no young–no regeneration. The forest we see today would convert to an Oak thicket, over time, and the entire Longleaf ecosystem would disappear.
Fire is the critical, nurturing element for the continuance of Longleaf, and fire is what we have provided in a systematic, managed regime. Periodic fire brings health and life to the Longleaf in dramatic ways. That is, the occasion of fire in a woodland is dramatic, and the resulting biodiversity and natural beauty of the woodland is dramatic.
Clearly, there are many moving parts to the introduction of fire in an urban setting such as ours. It is not commonly done. But we have established a format over years emphasizing public safety and engendering public support. Fire is primary and essential, but it does not stand alone. Forest management means selective brush-cutting, selective herbicide applications, and continuous programs for stunting the advance of invasive species.
Below is a field map of our Longleaf Forest. The designated areas are individual management areas, subject to different management strategies according to their condition. Our long-term goal is to be able to manage the entire woodland by the application of controlled fire. What fun!