In many parts of Florida landowners are encouraged to plant longleaf pines to help reestablish this once dominant ecosystem. Leo (Bud) and Karen Turner, north Okaloosa county ranchers/wildlife land managers, have been hard at work following this recommendation from the NRCS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The Turner’s own 200 acres of pasture and forest land. They participated in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and a plan was developed to plant 40 acres of longleaf pines and various species of native hardwoods. The plan has been implemented and the longleaf pines have thrived. The Turner’s have noticed an increase in Bob White quail on their farm along with an increase in other species of birds.
Prescribed burning is the conservation practice that gives longleaf pine the advantage over other plant species in competing for water and nutrients from the soil. Longleaf pine thrives with the periodic application of prescribed fire along with many native grasses. The WHIP plan recommends that prescribed burning should be applied early in the life cycle and at 3-5 year intervals thereafter. Once the tree crowns have grown enough to protect the candle from excessive heat, the potential for damage from a prescribed fire is remote.
With the declining habitat of longleaf pines comes the threat of exotic and invasive species such as climbing fern, cogongrass, and tropical soda apple. The Turner’s have worked hard to control invasive species and other pests. They encourage others to follow their example, which is to diversify their operation. This will result in the better utilization of natural resources while providing a wildlife friendly landscape.