Partnerships Key to Establishing Longleaf Pine to Support Wildlife in Georgia
NRCS Georgia has made it a priority to expand and restore the Longleaf pine ecosystem in Georgia. Many efforts have been documented across the State on private lands where NRCS has partnered with private landowners and partners to rebuild the once thriving ecosystem to its former glory.
Longleaf pine forests once encompassed more than 90 million acres of the North American landscape. Today, only three percent, or 3.4 million acres, remain and, yet, Longleaf pine forests represent some of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems.
The Longleaf pine ecosystem provides critical habitat for 29 threatened and endangered species. Those threatened and endangered species include the gopher tortoise, indigo snake and red-cockaded woodpecker.
The Longleaf Pine Initiative began when an interdepartmental Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and the Department of Defense identified the longleaf pine ecosystem as a priority resource concern.
As part of the initiative, NRCS and its conservation partners in nine states are helping private landowners improve the sustainability and profitability of Longleaf pine forest ecosystems. The following important conservation practices improve the forests' health: forest stand improvement, prescribed burning, restoration and management of rare or declining habitats, and tree/shrub establishment.
In fiscal year 2013, Georgia approved 220 contracts under the Longleaf Pine Initiative. Those contracts covered 11,634 acres and were funded with $3,464,666 million.
The Success of Partnerships
One could describe Henry Holman as one coin with two sides. On one hand, he likes fast cars and on the other, you’ll find a man who has the patience and attention to detail it takes to make a car both fast and durable.
These characteristics served Holman well while working on the set of the popular 1970’s show Dukes of Hazzard. He and his crew were responsible for the famous General Lee and other cars while the show filmed in Georgia.
Holman said, “We built cars for the first five shows filmed in Georgia. It was a lot of work because we worked all night long but it was fun. We did about 75 cars for them in two months.”
Decades later, Holman is using his success from those fast car days to grow trees on forestland around his home in Taylor County. Over the years, Holman and his wife Lisa have purchased small tracts of land at a time and now have 2,000 acres. Now, they are focused on managing that land for wildlife.
The Holmans are able to improve and manage their land for wildlife through their relationship with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). District Conservationist Ray Jones has worked with them on several Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) contracts which are funded under the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and on a Longleaf Pine Initiative (LLPI) contract; funded under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These contracts have assisted the Holmans in planting roughly 400 acres of longleaf pine trees on their farm.
“It will be a beautiful plantation in years to come for the grandkids and for other people to enjoy. It will all be beautiful longleaf pines, and with the wetlands we have, it will be a beautiful farm.”
By utilizing a variety of USDA-NRCS programs such as the LLPI, landowners like Holman are able to address their longleaf pine planting objectives while also benefiting wildlife species that have been on the decline, yet thrive in the longleaf ecosystems. One major component of these programs focuses on restoring and preserving habitat for wildlife like the gopher tortoise, which is native to Georgia. Because of the win-win for him and gopher tortoise, Holman feels that USDA-NRCS programs are a great fit for his farm.
“They did a survey on our property and we have the best habitat in the state of Georgia for the gopher tortoise out of the eight states that they’ve surveyed. That made us proud,” Holman added.
The LLPI was established in 2010 to offer an avenue for NRCS to support America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (ALRI). Since that time, NRCS investments in Georgia have totaled more than $11 million dollars to assist approximately 700 landowners in planting and managing more than 39,000 acres of longleaf forests. In the last fiscal year, NRCS Georgia funded 220 contracts covering 11,683 acres for roughly $3.5 million dollars.
While passionate landowners like the Holmans are important to longleaf restoration and protecting species like the gopher tortoise, collaborating with partners plays a big role in the Longleaf Pine Initiative's success. NRCS works closely with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Forestry Commission to help private landowners preserve the legacy of the longleaf pine ecosystem.