PILOT MOUNTAIN — Due to the suppression of wildfires — normally considered a good thing — and changing land use, there has been a 53-percent decrease in shortleaf pines in the Southeast since 1980, according to North Carolina Parks officials.
On Saturday Pilot Mountain State Park rangers and volunteers will work to address that situation by planting 3,000 of the trees on 30 acres of a recently acquired section of the park.
“Some people think ‘pine’ is a four-letter word,” said Matt Windsor, Pilot Mountain State Park superintendent, “but the short-needled pine has really dense wood and has great wildlife value.”
Shortleaf pines prefer an open, savanna-like area where trees are spread out, much like the way longleaf pines grow on the North Carolina coast.
The openness invites an understory of grasses and forbs (herbaceous, flowering plants) preferred as a habitat by many bird and animal species.
Periodic fires maintain that open habitat. Shortleaf pines then drop their seeds after a fire.
“A lot of the woods around here are 15 to 75 years old,” said Windsor. “A lot of it is abandoned farmland. We put out fires for obvious reasons, and shortleaf pines have not fared well in competition with other trees which grow into a dense forest.” Those pine/oak woods, which are most commonly seen in this area, do not support wildlife as well.
“Shortleaf pines don’t tolerate competition from other trees,” said Windsor. “They grow fairly fast, and they’re long-lived trees, but they are not regenerating themselves.”
“They’re not rare. There’s plenty of them out there, but not enough of them are reseeding.” They need bare soil for their seed to germinate.
“We’re going to plant some on the cornfields we inherited.”
And by ‘inherited,’ Windsor was speaking of some land added to the park at the end of 2017, made possible by a federal land and water conservation grant from funds the National Parks Service collected for oil and gas drilling. The annexed area will access the Yadkin and Ararat Rivers, according to Windsor.
The trees will be planted, not closely or in tight rows, but spread out as they would grow naturally.
Park staff are looking for volunteers to assist with the planting on Saturday at 11 a.m. Tools will be provided, but if you have a planting spade or shovel, bring it, along with your favorite work gloves and a lunch. During lunch, a short talk on shortleaf pine habitat will be given.
Windsor said the event is rain or shine. “A little mist is not going to stop us.”
Advance registration is required. Email Pilot.Mountain@ncparks.gov with intent to participate, and directions to the site will be given at that time.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.