Sunday, April 17, 2005
On this day:

Back to Nature

This weekend, federal officials opened 3000 acres of the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge in Calhoun County to the public. The 9000-acre refuge lies on land that was formerly part of Ft. McClellan. The area, which was once used by the army for field training and firing ranges, protects the only remaining old-growth mountain longleaf forest in the Southeast. Some of the mountain longleaf pines there are over 200 years old. According to this:

Longleaf not only tolerates fire, it requires fire to suppress competition from hardwoods and faster-growing pines.

Elsewhere in the Appalachians, Smokey the Bear has done a number on longleaf. But recruits training at Fort McClellan have, through shooting off guns and flares, set enough wildfires to preserve the trees and the rare plants that grow under them.

The oldest of Fort McClellan's longleaf pines predate the United States. Scientists have identified whole stands with an average age of 180 years. Definitions of 'old growth' vary, but this is as close to old growth as Southern pine gets, especially in a mountain setting.

The Jacksonville State University Environmental Policy & Information Center has more here. (The official web site for the refuge is