“Looking for Longleaf – the Fall and Rise of an American Forest” by Lawrence S. Earley

(The University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 272 pages plus notes, bibliography and index. Extensive illustrations.)

This is a “must read” book! It’s a highly enjoyable combination of ecological science and regional history.

The longleaf pine forest of the Southeastern US was an astonishing natural resource. It was never truly “primeval”, being influenced by human activity since the original Americans arrived from Asia. But it was vast and rich in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Longleaf pine is “managed” no matter what is done to it. The range of outcomes (from commercial timbering to bird habitat enhancement) is broad and the time scales (from a few years to over a century) are impressive.

To my surprise, I’m currently following the progress of TWO forest management plans.

One covers the campus where I work, specifying practices for perhaps half of the 1600 acre property. It has two purposes. One is to get the campus out from under a misguided state policy that requires one-to-one replacement of every tree that gets cut for construction or other development (like parking lots). The other purpose to keep the forest healthy and enhance biodiversity. A healthy forest can hardly be taken for granted in New Jersey, battered as we have been by storms and insect infestations. (Remember the gypsy moth?) We also suffer from invasion by non-native plant species. So our woods need careful management. So far, one “prescribed burn” has been conducted and some selective cutting is in progress. This is a wonderful accomplishment! Finally we are done with decades of neglect. Leaving a forest alone is NOT the best way to care for it.

The other forest management plan in my life was developed about five years ago, to protect land in North Carolina owned by my husband’s family. Some timber has been harvested under this plan, and other steps may follow. Will this include reintroduction of longleaf pine? I don’t know, but I’m glad that preservation is being combined with management on this rural property, with its beavers, bears, rice field and aged trees.

The only forest on MY side of the family, a seven acre sliver of New England hillside, was sold about fifteen years ago. It was important to my childhood. I miss it. A peak at GoggleEarth recently showed me that it remains undeveloped. Surprising!

I recommend Looking for Longleaf to anyone interested in the fate of nature in our rapidly changing world.

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