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Longleaf pine restoration efforts get boost through grants

Looking up into the longleaf pines at the Green Swamp Preserve. Longleaf pine forest once stretched across a vast swath of the American South. Photo by Tom Earnhardt
Looking up into the longleaf pines at the Green Swamp Preserve. Longleaf pine forest once stretched across a vast swath of the American South. Photo by Tom Earnhardt

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is disbursing more than $1.7 million in conservation grants to help ongoing longleaf pine restoration efforts in North Carolina.

The nonprofit announced Tuesday $33.5 million in grants from the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund, or LLSF, will be funneled to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests in eight southern states.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has been awarded $1 million in funding. The agency is matching the grant with $555,800 to restore and enhance 29,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat in eastern North Carolina.

The project includes planting longleaf pines, removing competing pine and hardwood trees, and prescribed burning, which is essential to maintaining healthy longleaf forests. The project will also include prescribed burn plans written by specialists and assisting landowners with controlled burns, applying for financial assistance, and training property owners to become certified prescribed burners.

This project will improve habitat for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, Bachman’s sparrows and northern bobwhites.

The Nature Conservancy received $722,300 in grant money, which will be matched for a longleaf restoration and management project totaling more than $1.4 million in the Sandhills.

This funding will be used to restore nearly 1,100 acres of longleaf pine on private lands through landowner cost-share programs and by implementing climate-smart agricultural practices. This project includes burning more than 60,600 acres, enhancing more 2,800 acres of habitat through groundcover planting and mechanical and chemical treatments, and protecting 2,000 acres.

This year marks the largest grant in the foundation’s program history.

“Through this record investment of more than $33 million, the 30 projects announced today will help partners scale up efforts to reach more landowners and implement innovative voluntary approaches to restoring longleaf pine habitat and helping the wildlife that rely on this important forest ecosystem,” Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said in a news release. “These projects would not be possible without the incredible network of funding partners and on-the-ground conservationists working collaboratively to reach the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative’s goal of restoring 8 million acres.” 

This year’s funding is being provided through a public-private partnership, including a major contribution from the Bezos Earth Fund and increased funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The longleaf pine ecosystem provides habitat for 40 species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and dozens of state-designated species of greatest conservation need.

The LLSF provides key financial support for organizations working to implement projects that contribute to the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, which recently updated its plan to restore 8 million acres of longleaf pine habitat.

Grants were also disbursed to projects in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

These projects are expected to establish more than 70,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat through plantings and prescribed burnings on an additional 430,000 acres.

Longleaf pine forests once covered more than 90 million across the southeastern coastal plain and Piedmont, but the ecosystem has been greatly depleted as it has been converted to other types of forests, land uses and fire suppression.

A complete list of the 2024 grants made through the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund is available online.

Anna Harden

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