In Virginia, more than 1 million acres of longleaf forest extended south from the James River when English settlers arrived in 1607. The trees were the backbone of America’s naval stores, providing masts, waterproof pitch and turpentine. Their “heart pine” provided the frames and floors for colonial homes and businesses. By 1893, the forest was harvested to near extinction, with only 200 native trees left in Virginia.
Thursday 150 new longleaf pines trees were planted in two parks in Virginia Beach, a project that is a combined effort of the Nature Conservancy, Virginia Natural Gas, Virginia Beach Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Virginia Department of Forestry. Volunteers planted seedlings and tree plugs at Lake Lawson/Lake Smith Natural Area and Mount Trashmore Park.
The goal is to restore long life pine forests which are considered a vital part of Southeastern Virginia’s ecosystem.
The Nature Conservancy has also purchased a 2,700-acre tract of pineland in Sussex County, Virginia from the Hancock Timber Resource Group in 1998 to create Piney Grove Preserve.
Longleaf forests are among the world’s most biologically diverse, home to hundreds of species of birds and 920 plant species found nowhere else on Earth.
The signature creature of Southern pine forests is the red-cockaded woodpecker. Piney Grove harbors Virginia’s only established breeding population — the northernmost population in the U.S. Listed as endangered in 1970, this bird nests exclusively in live pines and requires mature trees with soft heartwood for excavating nest cavities.
Biologists from the Center for Conservation Biology have documented modern-day highs at Piney Grove for the numbers of breeding pairs and fledglings. Approximately 70 red-cockaded woodpeckers now call Piney Grove home.