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Jeff Lerner, Vice President of Conservation Programs. FROM THE FIELD: FRANCIS MARION NATIONAL FOREST, S.C.).

IN 1989, HURRICANE HUGO wreaked havoc on the Southeastern United States. Where it made landfall in South Carolina, dozens of communities were damaged and several people died due to flood waters. Among the casualties was Francis Marion National Forest, a 250,000-acre (400 square mile) forest not far from the coast. The high winds, clocked at 130 miles an hour, blew down large stretches of forest. Francis Marion contained some of the few remaining intact stands of the longleaf pine ecosystem, a system that once covered 90 million acres in the southeast, but has been reduced by 95 percent.

Around the same time, in one of the first projects of our American ReLeaf program, we committed funds to help restore longleaf pine in some of the most heavily impacted areas of Francis Marion National Forest.

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In June of this year, I was thrilled to take American Forests' Board of Directors on a tour of these restored stands. From what began as seedlings some 25 years ago, we could now see a recovering longleaf pine forest with trees upwards of 40 feet tall. Best of all, we know that red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species highly adapted to longleaf pine, are using these same restored forest areas. The populations of woodpeckers at Francis Marion National Forest have now returned to the same levels found prior to Hurricane Hugo.

This is a hopeful story of restoration, but there is an important nuance to it as well. Part of the reason the recovery of these forest stands has been so successful is because the U.S. Forest Service has played an important stewardship role over those past 25 years. Every few years, a low-level prescribed fire, which does not kill the trees, is run through these stands. Longleaf pine need fire, and thanks to our partnership with the Forest Service, they have been able to keep these forests in good shape and on the road to recovery.

Our Board was thrilled to see tangible evidence of the work we do and the difference that it makes. Over the past 25 years, American Forests has helped plant eight million longleaf pines through more than 70 projects, restoring thousands of acres of habitat across the nine states that make up the historic range of longleaf pine. This year alone, we are supporting projects that will plant 400,000 trees in high-priority longleaf projects in Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia and Florida. As we look toward the future, we plan to make an even greater commitment to restoring longleaf pine, working with the Forest Service and other partners. Please join us in our efforts. We know our restoration techniques work. Francis Marion National Forest proves it. With more resources, we can put more acres of forest on the path to recovery.

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Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 22, 2016
Words:464
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