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Restoring Longleaf Pine After Hurricane Katrina

by Randy Browning and Jim Elledge

If longleaf pine still covered its historical range in South Mississippi, private landowners would be dealing with an inconvenience rather than a disaster due to Hurricane Katrina.

The forests of South Mississippi were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. However, more often than not, longleaf pine held up better than most other species. Live oak and cypress trees are the exception. Overall, longleaf pine is more resistant to hurricane related damage (i.e., flood, salt, breakage, uprooting and insects/disease) than other

In some cases, longleaf pine can be established through natural regeneration. Phtoo by the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

species of pine. Although large longleaf pines were blown down, most of them were uprooted and only a small percentage suffered breakage. This allowed for the salvage of poles and sawtimber. Loblolly and slash pine sustained a much higher percentage of breakage resulting in a much higher percentage of the salvage being used for short saw logs and pulpwood. However, regardless of the species, pines that were thinned within the past 3 years suffered at least some losses from Hurricane Katrina.

Historically, longleaf pine was the dominant tree species on an estimated 60 million acres in the Gulf Coastal Plain. Longleaf pine is reported to have also occurred on another 30 million acres in mixed stands. However, natural stands of longleaf have drastically declined and today residual stands of longleaf occupy less than 3 million acres of its original range.

In Mississippi, longleaf historically occurred in portions of Attala and Leake counties and within all or parts of the lower 36 counties. However, today longleaf pine only occupies approximately 255,000 acres, mostly in Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties.

According to Robert Bonnie, Director of the Center of Conservation Incentives, “The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most biologically diverse temperate forest ecosystems in North America. Over 20 federally listed endangered species inhabit longleaf pine. Moreover, longleaf pine produces superior solid wood products, including saw timber, utility poles and other high value products.”

Description of Longleaf Pine
Longleaf is a very distinctive, long lived southern yellow pine, with trees in excess of 350 years of age recorded. It is a medium to large tree that reaches heights of approximately 120 feet and diameters of 2.5 feet. The root system has a very deep taproot that may reach depths of 12 feet or more in mature trees. Although longleaf occurs on a variety of sites, it grows best on well drained soils.

Benefits of Longleaf Pine
Longleaf ecosystems have numerous positive attributes and several advantages over other pines when properly managed. Well managed stands of longleaf are aesthetically pleasing, can provide high levels of economic return and benefit numerous species of wildlife. Longleaf pine is resistant to most diseases and beetle infestations that plague other pine species. Longleaf pine is tolerant of wildfires.

Longleaf pine produces a much larger percentage of poles than other species of pine. Phtoo by the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Longleaf pine has potential economical advantages over loblolly and slash pine stands when managed on sawtimber length rotations. Wood from longleaf is denser and therefore heavier than other southern pines. Because of this, economic returns are higher for longleaf when compared to other pines on a per volume basis. Studies have shown that longleaf will outgrow slash and loblolly in 12 to 15 years on poor sites and in 25 to 30 years on average sites. However, longleaf generally takes longer to equal loblolly on highly productive sites.

Economics of Growing Longleaf Pine
Properly established and managed longleaf pine can have economic advantages over other southern pine species. Currently, low pulpwood prices are a disincentive for many landowners to invest in the timber market. Prices of solid wood products have also been on the decline. However, most analysts feel that the sawtimber market has more potential for recovery than does the pulpwood market. Fortunately, the pole market has remained strong and poles continue to bring a premium price. According to Rhett Johnson, co director of the Longleaf Alliance, on average, pole prices are about 47 percent higher than sawtimber prices.

In order to compare the economics of longleaf and loblolly pines, forest silviculturalist Fred White simulated the growth and yield of two pine plantations in the Carolina sandhills. In this analysis, White compared a longleaf plantation managed for 66 years and two successive 33 year old loblolly plantations. The longleaf stand was managed for pine straw, pulpwood, poles and sawtimber while the two loblolly rotations were managed primarily for pulpwood with a final sawtimber harvest. The analysis showed that longleaf produced as much financial return as the loblolly, generated more frequent payments and had economic advantages not shared by loblolly pine.

Overall, longleaf pine is more resistant to hurricane related damage than other species of pine. Economic returns are also higher for longleaf when compared to other pines.

In a recent study, Auburn University researchers measured 39 year old longleaf, loblolly and slash pine trees that were planted at the same time. Test plots were subjected to several cultural treatments that included cultivation and fertilization. In this study, the researchers found little difference in height and diameter between the species. However, there was a substantial difference in the quality of the timber between the species in this study. Less than 8 percent of the loblolly and less than 12 percent of the slash could be graded as poles, while nearly 72 percent of the longleaf were graded as poles. This equates to an additional 60 percent of the stand bringing a premium price when compared to the other species. This in itself is a strong incentive for landowners to consider establishment and management of longleaf.

Wildlife Management
Longleaf ecosystems are extremely diverse. However, because of the overall reduction in total longleaf pine acreage, many of the plants and animals that are associated with this ecosystem have been adversely impacted. Numerous plant and animal species are endemic to longleaf ecosystems and a total of 170 different species of amphibians and reptiles are found within the historic range. Because of the drastic decline of longleaf pine ecosystems, close to 30 plant and animal species have become threatened or endangered. Approximately 100 more plants and animals that are associated with longleaf ecosystems are listed as species of concern by various state and federal agencies.

In order for a particular species of wildlife to prosper, it is imperative that adequate food, water, cover and space be available. However, since different species of wildlife have varying habitat requirements, longleaf often require management. Sound forest management practices that include periodic timber harvest and prescribed burns are beneficial for most species of wildlife associated with longleaf ecosystems. However, the magnitude of timber harvest and the frequency of fire will be dependent upon the habitat requirements of the species of interest.

Working To Restore The Longleaf Ecosystem
Wildlife Mississippi and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already reforested over 1,860 acres of longleaf pine during the past 4 years. They plan to reforest approximately 700 acres during the next few months.

A booklet titled Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine: A Handbook for Mississippi Landowners has been prepared and is available at no charge.

Table 1. Income Comparison of Planted Longleaf and Loblolly on a 35-year Rotation.

Avg. d.b.h.

Gross Income $ Present Value $ Avg. d.b.h. Gross Income $ Present Value $


Longleaf Products
Loblolly Products
100% pulpwood 100% pulpwood
50% pulpwood, 50% small chip-n-saw 50% small chip-n-saw, 50% large chip-n-saw
50% large chip-n-saw, 50% small poles 100% large chip-n-saw
50% small poles, 50% class poles 100% sawtimber
100% class poles 100% sawtimber
These comparisons do not consider potential differences in establishment cost, or any potential imcome from pine straw.

Table 2. Resistance of tree species to hurricane-related damage (in descending order of resistance). Prepared by the USDA Forest Service.




bald cypress live oak live oak live oak live oak
tupelo gum palm palm palm palm
sweetgum bald cypress bald cypress slash pine sweetgum
sycamore sweetgum tupelo gum longleaf pine water oak
river birch tupelo gum redcedar loblolly pine sycamore
cottonwood dogwood sweetgum redcedar bald cypress
green ash magnolia sycamore tupelo gum southern red oak
red maple southern red oak longleaf pine bald cypress magnolia
pecan water oak southern red oak sweetgum tupelo gum
mulberry sycamore magnolia water oak hickory
American elm longleaf pine slash pine sycamore pecan
persimmon slash pine loblolly pine southern red oak redcedar
silver maple loblolly pine water oak hickory red maple
water oak redcedar red maple pecan dogwood
swamp chestnut oak hickory dogwood magnolia longleaf pine
magnolia red maple hickory red maple slash pine
hickory pecan pecan dogwood loblolly pine

For more information on longleaf restoration, contact Randy Browning, Field Biologist, Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, P.O. 16537, Hattiesburg, MS 39404-6537 or (601) 264-6010. For a free copy of the booklet titled Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine: A Handbook for Mississippi Landowners, call (662) 686-3375.