Restoration & Management
Frequent, low intensity, and often large scale, surface fires were the dominant factor in shaping the longleaf pine ecosystems across the historical range. This frequent fire regime, over generations, selected for longleaf pine’s fire-resistant attributes.
Prescribed fire may be the best management tool that we have for attaining range-wide restoration and management of longleaf pine ecosystems. Increased frequency of fire leads to more diversity and abundance of grasses and forbs; seasonality of burn also plays a role but is secondary to frequency.
Today, landowners and land managers use prescribed fire to achieve specific objectives and to mimic the natural processes that shaped the longleaf landscape. Prescribed fires in natural or planted longleaf pine systems should occur often, every 2-10 years. The variability in recommendations stems from the diversity of longleaf habitats, and the variation in the suite of groundcover species that define the habitat and influence the fire return interval.
The season of burning has various effects on the species composition of the groundcover, individual species abundance, or groundcover biomass. Fire managers often refer to dormant and growing season burns. These terms are not restricted to discrete months on the calendar, but rather the physiological changes that occur in trees and plants throughout the year. Generally, the dormant season is considered from late fall into winter, and growing season burns are conducted in the spring into the summer, depending on location within the longleaf range.
Dormant season burns typically top-kill stems of over-abundant hardwoods but can greatly increase stem densities of small understory trees and shrubs by stimulating resprouting. Growing season burns tend to do more towards control and reduction of small diameter hardwoods in the understory and midstory, with the best success towards control occurring after a program of repeated early growing season burns. A combination of (or alternating) dormant and growing season burns will provide most landowners the best opportunity to achieve desired burn outcomes.
How We Can Help
Restoring and managing longleaf ecosystems requires active management, and prescribed fire is still the most valuable and effective tool that we have. We support landowners with fire training and education, technical assistance in fire management planning, and cost-share support where available. The Longleaf Alliance’s Fire and Longleaf Academy offers a course dedicated to the challenges, benefits, and practices of prescribed fire when managing for longleaf pine. Staff members also provide fireline support on public lands through our Local Implementation Teams and multi-agency partnerships.