IP and NFWF Help Enhance Longleaf Pine Habitat Through the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund

Sep 9, 2021 11:35 AM ET
Inserting nest box for endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker; photo by Hollingsworth, John and Karen, USFWS

International Paper and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), through their Forestland Stewards Partnership, awarded six grants totaling more than $1.5 million to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests within the historical longleaf pine range in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.  The grants were awarded through the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund (Fund) to projects that will leverage $2.1 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $3.6 million.

The longleaf pine ecosystem once covered more than 90 million acres across the Southeastern coastal plain and piedmont. Today, it has been reduced to only about five percent of its historical range due to the conversion to other forest types, conversion to other land uses, and fire suppression.

These grants are expected to establish more than 2,700 new acres of longleaf pine and will enhance an additional 106,000 acres of habitat. Grantees will engage private landowners through workshops, training, and one-on-one technical assistance to restore and maintain longleaf pine habitat on their lands. 

The projects will also increase and improve habitat for several at-risk species, including the red‑cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise. These species depend on mature longleaf canopy and the open pine savannah and understory plants that prescribed fires and other management activities implemented by these projects will help restore and maintain. Longleaf needs fire to exist.

The red-cockaded woodpecker, a keystone species, is the only woodpecker species that creates cavities in living trees, with a preference for mature longleaf pine forests. This fire-adaptive forest, meaning it depends on periodic burning to thrive, is one of North America's most biodiverse ecosystems. The red-cockaded woodpecker is considered a keystone species because the nest cavities that they construct provide habitat for many other wildlife. The loss of these cavities can have a cascading effect on the populations of other species.

The gopher tortoise is another keystone species. It provides critical habitat for about 360 different species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates that spend all or a portion of their lives in active or abandoned gopher tortoise burrows. Its habitat range covers the coastal plain from South Carolina through Florida to southeastern Louisiana and is linked closely to the longleaf pine ecosystem. Longleaf is estimated to have once covered 90 million acres across the southeast but now only includes about 4.7 million acres. The diminished habitat is a major contributor to the decline in gopher tortoise populations.

About the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund expands, enhances, and accelerates longleaf pine ecosystem restoration across longleaf pine’s historical range throughout the southeastern United States. The Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund is a landmark public-private partnership supported with federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and private funding from International Paper’s Forestland Stewards Partnership, Southern Company, American Forest Foundation, the Arbor Day Foundation, Altria Group, and The Orton Foundation.

About the Forestland Stewards Partnership

International Paper and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation formed the Forestland Stewards Partnership in 2013 to conserve and restore southern forestlands, which comprise some of the United States’ most iconic landscapes. The partnership supports projects to restore native forests, strengthen important fish and wildlife populations, and protect watersheds—while at the same time promoting and supporting working forests in 10 states across the South.

The Forestland Stewards Partnership is just one way International Paper is leading forest stewardship efforts globally as the company seeks to achieve its Vision 2030 goal to conserve and restore one million acres of ecologically significant forestland.