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Restoration of Longleaf Pine Ecosystems

Restoring longleaf pine to hydric soils: minimizing adverse effects on native ground cover

Principle Investigators:

Joan Walker
Southern Research Station, USFS, Clemson University Clemson, SC 29634

Susan Cohen
Southern Research Station, USFS, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
(919) 549-4079

Funding for this project in the amount of $436,479 has been awarded and work will begin Summer 2002.

Introduction

Large land areas, once dominated or co-dominated by longleaf pine, now support different forest types, especially on wetter, more productive sites. This is the result of historical land uses, especially fire suppression and silvicultural preferences for other species. Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune and other Department of Defense installations include former longleaf pine lands and remnant longleaf pine habitats that support federally protected plants and animals such as the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). Management direction for the RCW calls for providing longleaf pines with diverse herbaceous ground layers such as those that historically characterized the frequently burned landscape. Most existing longleaf pine stands occur on drier sites and traditional approaches to restoring longleaf pine to wetter sites on the coastal plain require intensive practices that compromise the integrity of the ground layer vegetation. Land managers need better information about the efficacies of alternative site preparation practices to support longleaf pine seedling establishment without degrading the ground layer. Camp Lejeune personnel recognized the need for this information and this research represents the cooperative effort between Camp Lejeune and the US Forest Service.

Immediate and short-term effects of management treatments on ground layer vegetation, and on longleaf pine establishment and early growth will be evaluated with a controlled field experiment. Long-term effects will be investigated by quantifying vegetation composition and structure in mature plantations, and relating current conditions to known treatment histories and to the vegetation in high quality natural areas. Thus, the project will employ a unique blend of operational forestry techniques, ecological sampling and analysis, historical and land-use research, and multivariate analysis and modeling.

Objective

This project is designed to evaluate a range of site preparation methods that could potentially be used to restore longleaf pine stands on sites that no longer have a natural seed source. It will also determine the impact of these methods on the extraordinarily diverse ground layers that occur on moist, poorly drained sties.

Benefit

The results of this work will provide a scientific foundation for assessing management choices for managing longleaf pine and associated species on the landscape. The successful expansion of longleaf pine stands and RCW habitat to wet, poorly drained sites will provide managers flexibility for simultaneously maintaining defense-oriented training and fulfilling DoD obligations to preserve endangered species. The results of these studies will be used to support site preparation decisions, potentially retaining management tools that might otherwise be restricted in the revised RCW Recovery Plan. Implementing results from this study should ensure the sustainability and native biodiversity of DoD managed ecological systems, and reduce litigation potential for DoD installations with RCWs. Results should be applicable to all military installations with responsibilities for recovering the RCW.

The overall goal of this project is to strengthen the scientific basis for selecting site preparation methods to restore longleaf pine to somewhat poorly drained sites, while retaining and restoring the diverse ground layers of these sites. The project objectives are related to two general research questions, which represent complementary approaches to the overall problem.

Question #1:

What are the effects of selected site preparation methods on ground layer vegetation, longleaf pine establishment and early growth? This question will be addressed with a replicated field experiment.

Objective 1- Quantify plant species abundance and plant community diversity in treatment areas prior to site preparation and planting, and at 1, 2, and 3 years after planting.

Objective 2- Quantify seedling survivorship at 1 and 2 years after planting.

Objective 3- Quantify LLP seedling growth and emergence from the grass stage at 3 years after planting.

Question #2:

What are the persistent effects of past plantation establishment practices on the structure and composition of the ground layer vegetation on sites that historically supported longleaf pine or a pine mixture including longleaf pine? Data to answer this question will be collected by sampling plantations at least 25 years old, with known land use histories, and relatively undisturbed longleaf pine stands. Multivariate statistical methods will be used to describe relationships between past treatments and current conditions.

Objective 4- Compare vegetation in undisturbed longleaf pine stands with vegetation in plantations, at least 25 years old, on comparable sites.

Objective 5- Build models that describe how past plantation establishment and other silvicultural practices affect current vegetation.