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Texas Tribe Restores Rare Forestlands

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of TX works to restore longleaf pine forests on their reservation.

By Beverly Moseley - NRCS Texas  

NRCS District Conservationist meets with members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in TX

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with landowners and tribes to increase the number of longleaf pine forests across the Southeast, planting pine trees and associated native plants across the region through cost-share programs.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas plans to plant 400 acres with more than 240,100 longleaf pine seedlings on its reservation this winter, hopefully the first of many plantings to come.

The planting is part of the tribe’s effort to create and restore native longleaf pine forests, an ecosystem that used to cover most of the South, but has nearly disappeared over the past two centuries.

The longleaf pine tree is tightly woven into the history and culture of the tribe; the tree’s treasured needles have been used for generations to craft intricate handmade baskets. But, because of a lack of nearby longleaf pine forests and their needles, the tribe has been forced to purchase needles from other states.

Today, the tribe is well on its way to changing history for generations to come. Along with providing an abundant supply of needles, the new forests will also offer aesthetic benefits and recreational opportunities for the estimated 1,150 members of the tribe, including the 600 who live on the 10,200-acre reservation. Native wildlife will also benefit.

NRCS continues to work with the tribe’s forestry department to incorporate conservation practices including forest site preparation, tree establishment, chemical application, fire breaks and prescribed burning. Learn more about how the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is improving longleaf forests.

Longleaf Pine Forest in Texas

NRCS is working with partners like the tribe to restore this precious ecosystem because only 3 percent of the original 90 million acres of longleaf pine ecosystems in the U.S. remain, according to experts. Longleaf pine forests once stretched from Texas to Virginia.

The agency uses a variety of Farm Bill programs and initiatives to help landowners restore longleaf pine forests, including the Longleaf Pine Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife, Gulf of Mexico Initiative, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, Healthy Forests Reserve Program and others.

This variety of tools allows NRCS to build upon the hard work of many landowners together for a larger impact. In Bamberg and Barnwell counties in South Carolina, NRCS has worked 53 contracts with private landowners, leading to the reforestation of 2,700 acres of longleaf. And that’s just two counties!

These South Carolina landowners worked with NRCS to use prescribed burning and mechanical thinning to put newly planted and restored longleaf forests on a path for a healthy future. They also planted native grasses and forbs to build a healthy understory, which provides spring nesting habitat and winter cover for songbirds, bedding for deer, and food and cover for bobwhite quail and wild turkey.

As more forests are restored on adjoining lands, wildlife corridors are formed, which benefit the wildlife that call these forests home. These ecosystems are home to 29 species that are federally listed as threatened, endangered or both. Meet some of the wildlife that call longleaf pine forests home in this video.

In Georgia, landowner Brenda Webb has worked with NRCS to transform clear-cut land into a young longleaf forest, an investment that will not only financially benefit her family but also provide valuable habitat.

And in Virginia, landowner Bill Owen has restored 400 acres of longleaf pine forests and is looking to plant 400 more. With more landowners like Owen, longleaf forests will thrive again in the state.

All of this conservation—put in place on private properties across the Southeast through one-on-one partnerships between NRCS and landowners—improves soil and water, creates wildlife habitat and boosts biodiversity while sequestering carbon, enhancing recreational opportunities and heightening aesthetics.

Interested in longleaf pine forests? Visit your local field office.