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Longleaf Pine Initiative in Mississippi NRCS

The NRCS is using the Longleaf Pine Initiative to restore and protect this crucial ecosystem.At the beginning of the 17th century, an estimated 90 million acres of longleaf pine forests existed across the Southeast. However, only 3.4 million acres remain. Deforestation and urbanization have threatened this ecosystem, which is home to 100 bird species, 36 mammal species and 72 species of reptiles and amphibians. As these forests have declined, they have placed many of this wildlife in precarious positions, including many of them being classified as endangered or threatened species.

Through its conservation efforts, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing its efforts to help forest landowners more effectively conserve the longleaf pine ecosystem. The Longleaf Pine Initiative (LLPI) uses several NRCS programs to address the priority resources concerns of the longleaf pine ecosystem. These programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP).

States involved in the initiative include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Landowners in Mississippi have realized the economic value of a pole size longleaf pine stand. The price the landowners are receiving for their high-quality, straight-grained dimensional lumber and their long straight poles and pilings is attracting more people to plant longleaf pines. Timber buyers recognize the quality of these trees and are paying top prices for the products.  

Recent nursery and silvicultural improvements have improved the quality of longleaf seedlings and reduced the amount of time it takes to get the seedlings up and out of the grass stage. These improvements allow the longleaf pine to compete with the early growth rates of other Southern pines.  

Longleaf pine is more resistant to insect and disease pests such as Southern pine beetles and fusiform rust than other Southern pines. Longleaf pine is also more resistant to fire than other Southern pines and can be burned at an early age maintaining early successional habitat, benefitting many wildlife species like bobwhite quail.

Because of the tree’s smaller crown density and deep root system, longleaf pineThe gopher tortoise is an endangered reptile and is often considered the keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem. is not as susceptible to wind damage as other southern pines. The longleaf pine stands withstood Hurricane Katrina’s wind 48 percent better than the loblolly pine stands, according to one study. .

The longleaf pines produce longer needles that are preferred landscape mulch, and the sale of pine straw provides a steady source of income from these stands. Longleaf pine needles are longer and easier to bale, last longer than other mulches and have a distinguished red color that enhances the landscape.

Some landowners report they are making more money from selling pine straw than selling timber. This could also provide an additional source of income for a small forest landowner.

Finally, longleaf pine is the best species to use in a silvopasture system due to the smaller crown density, which allows more sunlight to filter through the tree crown canopy to the grass below.

To find out more about LLPI, contact your local service center.