Article and Photography
by ALICE MARY HERDEN
The Longleaf Alliance held their Longleaf Academy Program at the Withlacoochee Training Center in Brooksville for staff members from state and federal agencies, forest industries as well as conservation groups, researchers and private landowners.
Longleaf Alliance Technical Assistance & Training Specialist Karen Brown and Vice President of Operations Ad Platt were the instructors of the three-day training program.
The program consisted of learning the history of the longleaf pine, regenerating longleaf pine forests naturally, invasives in longleaf pine ecosystems, restoring native understory plants, including wildlife in the longleaf ecosystems.
“We have private landowners who own property with longleaf and want to learn how to manage it well,” Brown said. “That is what our three-day course is all about; it’s all about management and [the] conservation of longleaf.”
Karen added those attending the program learn about planting longleaf where it doesn’t exist and how to safely and successfully manage prescribed fire. They also will discuss the importance of longleaf management and how it helps support wildlife and the biodiversity.
As a part of the curriculum, attendees had the opportunity to see locations in Hernando County that are undergoing restoration of longleaf habitats along with the challenges and successes of those efforts.
Michael Singer, Conservation Lands Specialist for the Hernando County Planning Department with Florida Forest Service Other Public Land Forester and Florida Wildland Firefighter Mike Edwards, talked about the restoration efforts at Lake Townsen Preserve.
“A lot of agencies don’t have the funding or resources, and to partner, whether it’s with forestry, FWC, U.S Fish and Wildlife, Longleaf Alliance is beneficial. Ultimately all these managing agencies have the same goal, which is conservation and restoration,” Singer said.
“It’s a bonus for everyone to have the Longleaf Alliance come here and host this class. In previous years I was able to attend and to further my education that I wouldn’t normally get,” Edwards said.
The field trip included a visit to Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area and two other private locations currently managing longleaf habitat and undergoing longleaf restoration efforts.
FWC Steven Brinkley, Area Manager for Chassahowitzka WMA attended the program to be informed of new and current techniques in restoring longleaf pine.
“We have some old sand and slash pine plantation areas that we are converting back to a more natural sandhill type setting,” Brinkley said. “Our goal is to get the sandhills back in good shape with longleaf pine.”
Visiting these locations was meant to show how challenging and difficult it can be controlling hardwoods even in well managed and established areas.
“In all the stops we saw the progression of what you have when sandhill and longleaf habitat is degraded,” Brinkley said.
“Basically meaning that it hasn’t had fire or any other disturbance for years and years which resulted in massive hardwood and the understory shading out the herbaceous ground cover.”
Landowners who are considering the establishment of or currently have longleaf pine habitats for wildlife, aesthetics as well as timber sales obtained valuable information provided by the Longleaf Alliance.
“All over the south, there are a lot of landowners and land managers that are motivated to try to put things back the way they naturally once were. To make it better than they found it,” said Vice President of Operations Ad Platt.
The Longleaf Alliance dedicates education and restoration of the longleaf pine that once dominated and promoted a healthy ecosystem in many southern states.
“Florida is an important part of this whole effort and one of the leading states for longleaf pine and longleaf restoration,” said Platt.
Platt explained more private landowners are getting involved with restoration projects. It not only meets their state or federal objectives as landowners but a way to be a part of Florida’s conservation efforts.
“Even if it’s not a huge piece of land, it can truly be significant for migrating birds and native wildlife that are under pressure; having to move to a new place to make a living,” Platt said.
“For a lot of reasons people are interested and rewarded by doing restoration of the natural setting rather than maybe some of the other choices they could make with their land.”