Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests are one of America’s natural treasures, yet past exploitation has left them hanging by a thread, now covering just 3 percent of their pre-settlement range. Because other pine species in the Southeast may be more susceptible to global warming, longleaf pine forests have an opportunity to reclaim some of their former glory.
Indeed, re-establishing longleaf pine ecosystems will benefit all Americans by improving climate resilience, economic opportunity, and ecosystem vitality.
This report provides a summary of recent literature on how global warming will affect forests in the Southeastern United States and how longleaf pine is expected to be resilient to many of these changes.
It makes a strong case for why longleaf pine ecosystem restoration should be the centerpiece of forest-based climate adaptation and carbon sequestration efforts in the region, as well as efforts to improve the economic opportunities of traditionally underserved landowners.
Key Findings of the Longleaf Pine Report:
- Global warming puts southeastern forests at risk. As global warming pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, more and more climate changes are coming to the southeastern United States. Temperature increases, shifts in precipitation, more severe storms, sea-level rise, and other climate changes are stressing natural ecosystems and forcing communities and governments to rethink how we manage our forests, water supply, and other natural resources. More intense weather and climate extremes--for example, increasing frequency and severity of fires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods--will most directly impact these forests.
- Longleaf pine ecosystems are naturally resilient to climate extremes in the Southeast. Originally the dominant native pine of the South, now mostly eliminated from its historic range, longleaf pine is better suited to thrive in the coming decades than other southern pine species. Longleaf pine grows under very dry and very wet conditions, is tolerant of and even dependent on frequent fire, is better able to weather severe storms, and is more resistant to beetle infestations likely to be exacerbated by warmer and drier conditions.
- Longleaf pine restoration is a promising global warming adaptation strategy for southeastern forests. We need to invest in conservation strategies that are most likely to help wildlife and biodiversity cope with rapid change and to maintain the natural resources upon which communities across the nation depend. Restoring and expanding healthy longleaf pine forests can ensure long-term economic returns for landowners, provide crucial wildlife habitat, and enhance natural retention of fresh water on the landscape. Furthermore, recent experiences with Hurricane Katrina and the 2009 wildfires in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina have poignantly illustrated how longleaf pine forests can retain much of their economic value and help protect communities from devastating natural disasters.
- Longleaf pine ecosystems should be a centerpiece of land-based carbon sequestration efforts in the Southeast. Improved forest management will be an important tool in the effort to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus limit the overall amount of warming during the coming decades. Longleaf pine ecosystems are well suited for long-term storage of carbon. Longleaf pine trees live longer than other southern pine species; are less susceptible to fire, pests, and storms; and produce wood more likely to be used in long-lasting structures.
- Longleaf pine restoration can help alleviate poverty among African American landowners in the Southeast. The historical range of longleaf pine overlaps with the area in the rural South with large populations of African Americans, who endure high levels of poverty despite the presence of rich forest resources. Community-based forestry programs to educate and empower landowners about longleaf pine conservation and stewardship can help these communities take better advantage of the rich natural resources of the region, and thereby access new short-term income opportunities, build wealth, and enhance the resilience of communities.