Longleaf and Longbeards: Pine Forests Vital for Wildlife Habitat in the Southeast

Photo by Ricky Lackey: A newly-planted 78-acre stand of longleaf pine flourishes in Duval County, Florida. USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service helped the landowner with financial and technical assistance to restore this stand.


*Blog post from Derek Alkire, Regional Biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation in Florida, courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA:



Pine Forests Vital for Wildlife Habitat

It may be hard to believe, but Florida and most of the Southeast used to be covered with old growth longleaf pine forests. These stands covered roughly 90 million acres, however due to the timber boom of the early 1900s, coupled with expanded agriculture, only about 3 percent remain.  The remaining acres provide excellent wild turkey habitat that the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is working to manage. Not only are we striving to improve the acreage utilizing prescribed fire, but we are also very involved in the replanting of longleaf pine in its native range.

But why do we care so much about longleaf pine? Do wild turkeys even know the difference between an over-story longleaf and any other pine species? Do they care? Whether they know the difference or not, they should definitely care. The reason longleaf pines make for great turkey habitat is not due to the seeds they provide, but instead their resilience to fire.

As I travel around Florida, I see acre after acre that has not seen fire in many years, if ever.  There are many reasons for the absence of fire on these acres including development, land use changes, and in some case the fear of fire. This fire suppression can and will prove devastating for ground-nesting birds such as the wild turkey. But there is hope in the longleaf pine. 

The ability to burn in a longleaf stand proves vital to wild turkeys and other wildlife species because of their preference for early successional habitat. Frequent fire can and will promote native grasses and legumes. These native plants provide excellent wild turkey habitat. Not only do they provide an abundance of seed, they also are home to a plethora of insects, such as grasshoppers, which wild turkeys absolutely love. In addition to the abundance of food they provide, the structure of the native grasses provides excellent nesting and brood rearing habitat which is the most limiting factor in Florida and other areas of the Southeast. The vertical grasses allow young poults to move freely, foraging for food, yet provides cover from both four- legged and avian predators.

As you can see, longleaf pine can provide excellent wild turkey habitat, and can be among the world’s most diverse habitats providing a home to over 300 birds and 2,500 plant species.  However, this cannot happen without fire. Do you want to see more game on your land? If so, this is your chance to join us in our effort to conserve and enhance acreage in Florida by promoting longleaf pine and prescribed fire.  For more information visit www.nwtf.org

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