Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $4.3 million in grants to support, restore and enhance the longleaf ecosystem, including 10 projects in the Southeast states where Southern Company operates electric utilities.
The 2016 grants will support 21 projects that are a part of NFWF's Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a landmark public-private partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southern Company, International Paper's Forestland Stewards Initiative and Altria.
These projects will ultimately restore more than 14,800 acres and enhance more than 230,000 additional acres of longleaf pine habitat across the historic longleaf range. The 10 projects supported by Southern Company will impact more than 194,000 acres, of which nearly 10,000 acres will be newly planted longleaf.
"Through collaborative partnerships with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and others, Southern Company is providing real solutions to aid in the restoration of the historic longleaf pine ecosystem," said Southern Company Chief Environmental Officer Dr. Larry S. Monroe. "We are proud to support this important effort to conserve and protect wildlife and habitat, benefiting the communities we are privileged to serve."
The Longleaf Stewardship Fund builds on the success of the Longleaf Legacy program, a partnership between Southern Company and NFWF, which for eight years invested more than $8.7 million in projects to restore more than 87,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on the habitat. Another 20,000 acres were restored through the company's closely aligned Power of Flight program with NFWF.
"The $4.3 million in Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants announced today will build on the successes achieved through this powerful, longstanding public-private partnership," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO at NFWF. "The grants will support a range of critical conservation actions, including longleaf plantings, invasive species control and the use of prescribed fire for longleaf restoration. These projects will benefit a wide array of wildlife, including rare species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, indigo snake and dusky gopher frog."
Unique to the United States, the majestic longleaf pine ecosystem once covered more than 90 million acres across nine states from Virginia to Texas, but had declined to less than 3 percent of its original area. With the diverse public-private commitment to longleaf pine restoration over recent years, longleaf pine forest acreage has increased from roughly 3 million acres to an estimated 4.7 million acres, halting and reversing a century-long decline and benefiting many threatened and endangered species.
Five of the 10 projects supported by Southern Company are located in significant geographic areas for longleaf pine conservation, which are areas anchored by federal lands including military bases, national forests and national wildlife areas.
The 2016 Longleaf Stewardship Fund projects supported by Southern Company include:
The Fort Stewart-Altamaha Longleaf Partnership (Georgia) will establish 171 acres of longleaf pine and improve an additional 12,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat with prescribed fire. Restoration efforts will improve habitat for gopher tortoise and other species on public and private lands within close proximity to Fort Stewart and Townsend Bombing Range. Partners will also build a network of landowners focusing on native groundcover restoration through prescribed burns, as well as native seed collection and planting.
The Okefenokee-Osceola Local Implementation Team (Georgia/Florida) will establish 300 acres of longleaf pine and improve management of an additional 61,250 acres of existing longleaf habitat on public and private lands. Management activities will reduce hazardous fuel loads in one of the most fire-prone areas of the U.S. Partners will continue a successful collaboration with the Jacksonville Job Corps Center to train young people to serve on longleaf restoration teams. Partners will also conduct longleaf restoration workshops for at least 200 private landowners.
The Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance (Georgia/Florida) will plant 1,825 acres of longleaf pine and improve more than 21,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat through prescribed fire, removal of invasive plants and planting of native groundcover. Workshops will educate private landowners on groundcover restoration, fire planning and invasive species management, with financial assistance available for landowners interested in restoring longleaf on their lands. Partners will reintroduce eastern indigo snakes, a threatened species, on lands owned by The Nature Conservancy and monitor progress.
The Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership (Georgia/Alabama) will accelerate and demonstrate longleaf pine conservation on more than 15,000 acres in Georgia and Alabama, with particular emphasis on privately owned land. Outcomes include planting longleaf on 1,900 acres and implementing prescribed fire on 13,800 acres, including lands protected around Fort Benning. Partners will engage with more than 2,000 private landowners, with at least five landowners committed to enrolling in financial assistance programs that will enhance at least 2,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat.
The Talladega Mountain Conservation Longleaf Partnership (Georgia/Alabama) will establish 236 acres of longleaf pine and improve 37,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat with prescribed fire. The project will increase capacity within the Dugdown corridor, allowing partners to develop a conservation plan, increase partnerships with private landowners and foster greater collaboration between conservation organizations and agencies working in Georgia and Alabama.
The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership (Florida/Alabama) will plant 374 acres of longleaf pine and improve more than 36,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat with prescribed fire and other management practices. Restoration will take place on the Yellow River Ravines, an important corridor connecting Eglin Air Force Base to the larger Blackwater River State Forest/Conecuh National Forest complex, as well as other public and private lands benefiting the installation. Rare species recovery will center on the red-cockaded woodpecker, reticulated salamander, eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise.
The American Forest Foundation, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and partners (Alabama) will restore 700 acres of longleaf pine on the Coosa County Wildlife Management Area and engage and educate 2,000 adjacent family forest owners on sustainable forest management practices and longleaf restoration. The project will provide long-term habitat benefits to species of concern such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, while also providing technical assistance and outreach activities, including field days for private landowners.
The National Wildlife Federation and Alabama Wildlife Federation (Alabama) will restore and enhance 5,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat and advance longleaf mapping and measurement in Alabama. Ongoing project strategies include identifying priority areas where the impact of longleaf restoration is highest, providing landowners with technical assistance to develop conservation plans and offering educational opportunities including workshops and field days for private landowners.
The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain and partners (Mississippi) will restore and enhance 527 acres of longleaf pine on the DeSoto National Forest and the Gopher Frog Tract to support the endangered dusky gopher frog. Partners will remove invasive species, thin trees, implement a fire regime and plant longleaf pine to promote better survival of endangered and threatened species. In addition, work with Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will provide a conservation area for translocated gopher tortoises on the Gopher Frog Tract once conditions are satisfactory for their return.
The Forest Landowners Association (Florida) will engage mid-to-large working forest landowners (1,000 to 100,000 acres), as well as companies that manage large forestland holdings for family owners, to identify opportunities for longleaf restoration and management. In addition to peer-to-peer meetings and forums, the project will foster communication between the association's member network, longleaf stakeholders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help landowners understand and address regulatory barriers or disincentives to planting and maintaining longleaf pine.