Did you know when settlers first arrived in the southeastern United States, they were greeted by giants? They were – just not the kind you may be picturing!
When these early settlers arrived, they found vast conifer forests full of giant trees that were slender and straight with needlelike leaves up to 18 inches long. Unknowingly, they had discovered the longleaf pine, which many today consider the most important tree in American history.
The longleaf pine once dominated the landscape of the South, covering over 90 million acres and stretching across nine states, from Virginia to Texas. The ecosystem these trees created provided tremendous biodiversity. Endangered and threatened wildlife such as the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker and important game species such as the northern bobwhite quail, wild turkey and white-tailed deer all depended on the longleaf pine habitat.
However, as the South was populated, the tree became prized for its strength and longevity. Its lumber was used to build entire cities while the pitch, tar and turpentine it made was used to waterproof eighteenth-century ships. Over the next 200 years, the millions of acres of majestic longleaf pine stands were reduced to only around 3% of their historic range due to development, overharvesting and fire suppression programs.
Fast forward to today, and the exciting news is efforts are underway to bring back the longleaf pine to its former glory. Even more exciting is that Southern Nuclear and our sister companies have been involved with these efforts for many years now. We have long-standing partnerships with both the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which have allowed us to complete longleaf restoration projects at Plants Farley, Hatch and Vogtle. Today, there are over 4,000 acres of pine stands at our nuclear sites alone and over 82,000 acres of longleaf pine forests at various other Southern Company power plants.
To add to that, there are conservationists, landowners, state departments and other agencies across the southeast helping with longleaf pine recovery while also adding to the number of endangered wildlife who depend on the tree to live.
All in all, we’d call that a pretty good start to a really great comeback story.