Restoration of native fire-adapted southern pine-dominated forest ecosystems: diversifying the tools in the silvicultural toolbox
Projections are that the area of planted stands of southern pines will exceed 50 million ac (20 million hectares) by 2060; most will be managed primarily for timber and fiber production using rotations less than three decades in length. This has been a tremendous silvicultural success. However, weighing against that success is the associated decline of native fire-adapted ecosystems dominated by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris L.) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata Mill.), and the flora and fauna adapted to open woodland habitats. Three elements of silvicultural practice will be needed to recover these ecosystems. First, on sites where longleaf pine or shortleaf pine no longer exist but to which they are adapted, planting will be a primary tool to re-establish those species. Second, the reintroduction of fire in stands and landscapes through prescribed burning will also be important, but will be difficult to integrate into operational management. Third, there are silvicultural opportunities in natural stands with a minor component of either longleaf pine or shortleaf pine by using reproduction cutting or thinning, prescribed burning, and release treatments to bring those species back to dominance. Efforts are under way, especially on National Forest lands, to recover longleaf and shortleaf pine ecosystems.