History and Future of the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

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From Virginia to Texas, much of the coastal plain landscape was once covered by a “vast forest of the most stately pine trees that can be imagined … ”(Bartram 1791 [1955]). Longleaf pine could be found from sea level, on the margins of brackish marshes, to around 2000 feet on the Talladega National Forest in Alabama (Harper 1905; Stowe et al. 2002). The spectacular failure of the primeval longleaf pine forest (Fig. 1) to reproduce itself after exploitation is a milestone event in the natural history of the eastern United States, even greater in scale and impact than the elimination of chestnut (Castanea dentata) from Appalachian forests by blight. This chapter discusses presettlement extent and summarizes major events in the decline of the longleaf pine ecosystem and its displacement from more than 97% of the lands it once occupied.