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Planting seedlings of change for generations to come

story by Beverly Moseley

Welcome Texas rains are not only helping stock tanks fill and forages grow, the moisture is also helping replenish soil moisture. Pine tree growers, such as the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, are hoping the rains continue into the fall months, and in turn, optimize planting conditions for Longleaf Pine tree seedlings.

In an effort to restore Longleaf Pine forests to the reservation's native lands, the Tribe enrolled 400 acres into the Longleaf Pine Initiative through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). This fall, Longleaf Pine seedlings are scheduled to be planted on the enrolled land.

"Because of the continued rapport with the local NRCS office, District Conservationist Ronald Harris understood some of the Tribe's needs and wants. He informed us about the Longleaf Pine Initiative that would help revitalize the Longleaf Pine trees," says Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council Chairman Kyle Williams, adding that the Tribal Council voted unanimously to initiate the pine tree project.

NRCS has partnered with the Tribe over the years on various projects. However, this is the first time the two have entered into a WHIP contract. This was a significant historical event for the Tribe and NRCS in Texas.

Following History

The Longleaf pine tree is tightly woven into the history and culture of the Tribe which dates back to the 1700s when they settled in the Big Thicket of East Texas. The tree's treasured needles have been used for generations to craft intricate handmade baskets which also provide members with economic opportunities.

The reservation's forests of Longleaf Pine trees have diminished over the years due to harvesting timber for developing community infrastructures, disease from pests, hurricanes, and drought. This has basket crafters seeking pine needles out of state.

The Longleaf Pine tree is known for its slow growth rate, adding to the challenge of having abundant needles on reservation land.

"Due to the slow growth of the Longleaf Pine tree, it was not replanted once harvested. It was replaced with other pine tree species such as the Loblolly or the Shortleaf pine trees, because of their faster growth rate," Williams says. "It has always been talked about among our Tribe to revitalize the Longleaf Pine trees for decades, but nothing has ever been done."

Harris explains that Longleaf Pines can stay in the grass stage, which resembles a clump of grass, for more than a year. Then the sapling stage begins where the pine starts to grow in tree height. The sapling stage can last a couple years.

"Under good conditions, we expect that the trees will be up and growing to the point of 10-to 15- feet in five to seven years," adds Harris.

Clearing the way

The Tribe is well on its way to changing history for generations to come. Site preparation on the 400 non-contiguous enrolled acres is completed. Mechanical clearing of brush and unwanted vegetation has opened up the targeted acreage for planting. An estimated 240,000 Longleaf Pine seedlings will be planted on the 400 acres. About 600 seedlings are planted per acre at an average cost of $188 per acre.

Along with providing an abundant supply of needles, these new forestlands will also offer an aesthetic and recreational value for the estimated 1,150 members of the Tribe, of which 600 live on the 10,200 acre reservation. Wildlife will also benefit from improved and restored forest habitat of native grasses and plants.

NRCS continues to work alongside the Tribe's forestry department personnel on technical assistance focused on conservation practices which include forest site preparation, tree establishment, chemical application, fire breaks, and prescribed burning.

"With the good site preparation that was completed on the 400 acres, and with good conditions for growing, I do expect that most of the Longleaf seedlings will go from the grass stage to the woody stage of growth within the second year," says Harris.

Only 3 percent of the original 90 million acres of longleaf pine ecosystems in the United States remain, according to experts. These ecosystems are home to 29 species that are federally listed as threatened, endangered, or both. For more information on the Long Leaf Pine Initiative (LLPI) visit the national site.


clearing group seed bed prep

Longleaf pine seedling bed preparation begins on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas' 400 acres enrolled in the Longleaf Pine Initiative through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).

Ronald Harris, NRCS District Conservationist-Livingston; Don Sylestine, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Forestry Director; Tribal member Kerwin Williams; and Garry Stephens, NRCS Tribal Liaison and Wildlife Biologist-Corpus Christi, evaluate Longleaf Pine seedling bed preparation on Tribal land.

Kyle Williams table of baskets

Tribal Council Chairman, Kyle Williams of the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas, inspects the needles of a Longleaf Pine growing on the reservation in the rich soils of East Texas' Big Thicket.

The Longleaf pine tree is tightly woven into the history and culture of the Tribe which dates back to the 1700s when they settled in the Big Thicket of East Texas. The tree's treasured needles have been used for generations to craft intricate handmade baskets which also provide members with economic opportunities.