Longleaf pines. Credit: Eric Sprague.
As we stepped out of Lamar Colomander’s truck, we were met with one of North America’s finest birdsongs — Bachman’s sparrow — and the fragrant ‘piney woods’ smell of the surrounding longleaf pine forest. The mature longleaf pine canopy was patchy and allowed plenty of light to hit the forest floor supporting saw palmetto, wiregrass and other plants on the forest floor. To the right of the forest road, a black fox squirrel with a white patch on its nose and feet raced up a nearby tree. These squirrels are so large that some visitors to Norfolk Southern’s Brosnan Forest think they are raccoons.
Longleaf forests like this are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world outside of the tropics: 900 plant species are found nowhere else and 26 species are threatened or endangered. When asked about longleaf pine restoration, Larry, who manages these forests at Milliken Forestry, told us that this diversity depends on one thing: fire.