Sunday, August 21, 2016

Longleaf pine restoration - bring on the fire, but first....

Elsewhere on this blog I have discussed the importance of fire for the maintenance and recovery of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) habitats. I have not discussed the numerous challenges in being able to do so, and they can be considerable. This page will not be a full accounting of these challenges but is predicated on some of these. Namely, long-unburned stands may have extraordinary fuel loads that can be explosive and dangerous to reintroduce fire into.

Longleaf pine stand and prescribed burn near the coast of North Carolina;
flame lengths and intensity are greater than many managers would prefer 

   Longleaf "flattop"; these trees often represent remnants of
earlier forests skipped over by loggers
                                                            Bringing fire back into long-unburned stands places serious stress on the very trees fire management is intended to support. In stands where longleaf pines are sparse (image above) or where the individuals include older relicts, each tree is precious and valuable (image left). Longleaf remnants with "cat faces" (signs of previous naval stores harvest) are especially susceptible to fire damage (image below).                                                                 
Mechanically reducing the fuels in such stands can help protect high-value individual trees and lower overall fire intensity. However, doing so across large and heavily overgrown stands takes a concerted approach. Several years ago, we stepped up and took one (a concerted approach, that is).

The "concerted approach"!
Skid steer equipped with forestry cutter
We acquired a skid steer equipped with tracks to minimize ground disturbance, a special cab to protect the operator, and a "forestry cutter".  Examples of how we used it are shown below:       
  Disappearing mower and mowed swath
 through heavy "bay" fuels
Brunswick Co, NC

Mower headed straight toward remnant longleaf pine, barely evident from
a distance due to tall shrub and Pond Pine (Pinus serotina) encroachment

In these circumstances it was the perfect way to go "looking for longleaf".  

The images below show this stand before and after treatment. Note the lone Longleaf pine with the Y-shaped canopy near the center. Amazingly, a young longleaf pine was hiding in the dense brush immediately in front of this tree (click & enlarge image right). After clearing, the stand displayed the open structure typically associated with longleaf pine savannas and woodlands - a restoration success?.  Comment appreciated! 

Longleaf pine stand with relicts, after mulching treatment (same stand as above)
Note - turpentine faces on 2 of the trees.
Brunswick Co, N.C.

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