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Southeast Forestry Program

Southeastern Forestry Program: Restoring Ecologically and Economically Sustainable Forests in One of the Most Biodiverse Regions in North America 

The Southeast is a critical forest region both ecologically and economically. Stretching across the sandy, low-lying soils of the Coastal Plain, the gently sloping clay soils of the Piedmont, and the steep sloping terrains of the southern Appalachian Mountains, the forests of the Southeastern U.S. are widely recognized for their high biodiversity. Much of the region is also working forestland and it produces more sawtimber than any other region of the country.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Southeast Forestry Program works with forest owners and managers and other partner organizations to help restore and improve wildlife habitat, while also working to ensure  good stewardship is rewarded financially, focusing where economics and conservation go hand-in-hand. Our vision is for all types of the region’s forests to be managed such that they continue to provide high-quality habitat, abundant forest products, and high quality of life for all generations to come.

Longleaf Stand in GA photo by Tiffany Woods

Restoring the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

Before Europeans arrived in North America, longleaf pine forests dominated the coastal plain from eastern Texas to southeastern Virginia—as much as 90 million acres throughout the southeast. These longleaf forests were actually savannahs, adapted to the region’s frequent fires, and characterized by scattered trees, open canopies, and abundant ground-level plant communities. As a result, longleaf forests are one of the most biodiverse forests in North America. 

But by the end of the 20th century, conversion to densely-planted plantations, agriculture and other land uses had reduced the longleaf pine ecosystem to approximately three to four million acres, representing a 97% loss of this critical habitat, making longleaf one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. The loss of these forests had grave impacts on the region’s wildlife. 

Today, well-managed longleaf forests provide critical habitat to northern bobwhite quail, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, striped newts, southeastern pocket gophers, pinewoods tree frogs, mimic glass lizards, pine and prairie warblers, eastern indigo snakes, Bachman's sparrows and many more. In fact, longleaf forests provide benefits to 29 species on Federal threatened or endangered lists.

The National Wildlife Federation has a number of initiatives underway to restore and better manage longleaf. In addition to being a key member of the range-wide effort to restore eight million acres of longleaf, we are helping provide technical, financial and social support to landowners:

  • Restoring longleaf on private lands in Alabama. NWF collaborates with our affiliate, the Alabama Wildlife Federation, to work one-on-one with private landowners to help restore longleaf on their land. Since 2008, we have helped to restore and enhance over 13,000 acres through new plantings, controlled burns, and understory treatments by providing technical assistance and education to landowners. This ongoing work is funded by the Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund.
  • Helping to a balance the income from pine straw harvesting and wildlife habitat. Valuable as a landscape mulch, pine needles or “straw” can be an important income source, making longleaf restoration and management financially viable. However, pine needles are also valuable to the forest, serving critical ecological functions, including helping to carry prescribed fires as a fine fuel, protecting soil, and cycling nutrients. Some kinds of pine straw harvesting can damage the understory plant community that is essential to support wildlife. By convening top wildlife biologists, foresters, and pine straw experts, NWF developed guidelines that balance pine straw’s economic value to landowners with its ecological values to the forest.
  • We are currently helping forest owners and forest managers implement the guidelines. Working with staff from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, we are helping create new cost-share opportunities for landowners who implement the guidelines. We are also creating new markets for pine straw that’s certified to have been managed and harvested according to the guidelines.

Using sustainable forest management to increase rewards to landowners and improve habitat

  • Improving small forest owners’ access to sustainable forest management certification. AWF staff talking to landowners about prescribed fire in the longleaf system photo by Tiffany WoodsThe Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a sustainable forest management certification system that provides assurance to consumers who want to make sustainable purchasing decisions. By creating the first FSC group certificate in the SE, we reduced the cost to small forest owners. Currently, more than 68,000 acres of forests are certified under the FSC group certificate.

  • Increasing participation of underserved landowners.  NWF has worked to boost the participation of minority landowners in our FSC group certificate and longleaf pine restoration projects. So far, we have helped fifty minority landowners receive and implement management plans for their forested property. Ten of these landowners are working to meet the standards to join the FSC group certificate which could help provide them with a financial premium for their sustainably grown forest products.


Also see:

Learn more about other programs in this region>>

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