LEAFS is a demonstration project designed to show private landowners -- especially those with less than 100 acres -- that longleaf pines can be profitably grown and sold as timber while still maintaining a viable ecosystem. Some small landowners may hold properties which are similar to how the LEAFS sites were: cut-over, neglected, and/or in marginally profitable fields or pulp wood pine plantations. LEAFS tries to show on its sites various low impact, low cost methods of planting longleaf pines and using prescribed burning for management and regeneration. The project is in its early stages and the appearance of the sites will change as the years pass and the trees planted in recent years reach maturity. What follows is a narrative of what has been done to date.
The CR 1471 Site
Summary: All of this site has now been subjected to prescribed fire every two or three years. Most parts have been planted with seedlings, both by hand and by machine; there is a section which has been direct seeded. A section with invading slash pines has been clearcut and replanted. There are some places with older pines of mixed species where thinning will soon be desirable.
When this site was acquired in 1993, the “brush” or “rough” was very thick, with tall tangles of gallberries, smilax or greenbriers, and young water oaks. A wildfire had burned through a portion of the site in the early 1970s, but otherwise there had been nothing to thin the ground cover in many years. A former owner had harvested some of the more easily accessible pine trees a few years after the wildfire, but had made no effort to replant. Some parts of the site remained well stocked with young pines of various ages and species.
The first step for restoration, early in 1994, was to arrange for the Division of Forestry to plow a double fireline around the perimeter of the site, as well as bisecting interior lines. Then on a cold February night a few days after heavy rains, the whole site was burned. Some parts burned well, but in lower spots where there was standing water, flames quickly flickered out.
In the months following, the site was divided into small sections, depending upon how well each had burned. The more open center portion of the site was burned again in the summer of 1994 and hand planted in the fall of the year with container grown longleaf seedlings. (Longleaf seedlings can be grown in flats with cells for each seedling measuring about three to four inches deep and a little over an inch wide; these seedlings are often referred to as “tubelings.” Seedlings grown in the open and then dug up for replanting are referred to as “bare root.” Bare root seedlings are available only in the winter months.) Planting was at approximately 800 seedlings per acre.
Starting in October of 1994 and continuing on until the following March, most sections of the site through which the interpretive trail passes were burned. Some sections were already well-stocked with young pines in a mixture of species, but others were very open, and these were hand planted immediately following the site-preparation fires with tubelings and then, as the weather turned cold, with bare root seedlings. The final sections, burned in the spring, were planted with tubelings, which can be planted in most seasons when there is adequate rainfall.
Much of the eastern side of the site, which is lower and wetter, did not burn well in the initial burn. By the spring of 1994, some parts had dried out enough to be burned, and were reburned at the end of the summer of 1996. In November, a small section of about six acres was seeded with a pound per acre of longleaf seed by using a hand-cranked seed spreader.
Throughout the site, during the winter of 1996 and into the spring of 1997, sections were burned, a few for only the second time, but most for the third time. Hand planting continued, now using mostly tubelings which were becoming more readily available and which provide added flexibility in that, unlike bare root seedlings, they do not have to be planted immediately upon delivery from the nursery.
By the end of 1997, all 70 acres of the initial LEAFS site had been burned at least twice and had some planting. By then, those sections which had been planted first had many large grass stage seedlings where, under proper conditions, another prescribed fire to reduce competition was desirable. For that purpose, spring burns, more closely matching the natural fire cycle, are usually best. Following those fires, generally some interplanting was called for. However, the results in those sections planted in the spring of years which were especially dry were mostly disappointing.
There have been two additions to the initial site. One of these, consisting of 20 acres on the eastern edge and which fronts on CR 1469, gives the site an “L” shape. Again, the first step was to plow firelines and burn the addition. Part of it was then machine planted with bare root seedlings. The rest of the addition was similar to the initial 70 acres expect that, having a different ownership, it had not been logged in many years and had many large slash pines. These were clearcut in early 1997. That spring, the logging slash was burned off and the remainder of the addition was hand planted the following fall. Since then, all of this addition has been burned at least twice and had some interplanting. The other addition consists of ten acres, including the homesite of the LEAFS manager, and a small cypress dome.
Restoration of the site is now essentially complete. All of it has now been burned several times and planted with longleaf seedlings. In the years ahead, parts of the site with older trees will be thinned. At that time, some additional planting may be necessary.
The Lake Alto Park Site
Summary: This site has required more extensive restoration; a recently acquired portion remains in slash pine plantation. Most of the initial site has been burned three or more times and planted with longleafs.
The initial 60 acres of this site were acquired in 1994. At some time many years before that, all of the timber on the site had been cut and much of the native ground cover was disturbed; no effort had been made to replant the site. As a result, much of the site was covered with a dense crowded growth of skinny water oaks. The shade under these trees was such that little else could grow and the ground was covered in a litter of oak leaves. Clearing the site by prescribed fire was not feasible on account of the lack of fine fuels.
The alternative was an application of herbicide, sprayed from a helicopter in September of 1994. During the growing season of the following year, after the oaks died, enough sunlight could reach the ground to allow some grasses and other herbaceous plants to thrive and provide fuel for a site preparation burn.
The site was divided into three sections and firelines were plowed. One section consisted of about 10 acres of young slash pines which had seeded in on the site around the retention pond built by Alachua County next to CR 1471. Herbicide was not applied there and a prescribed backing fire had been burned under them on a cold February day in 1995. The remainder of the site was split into two nearly equal sections of a little over 20 acres each. One was burned in February, 1996, and the other in February, 1997. Immediately following burning, each section was planted with bare root longleaf seedlings, using a V-blade machine planter at a rate of close to 800 seedlings per acre.
In each of these larger sections, the young seedlings were allowed to grow for two years. Then the sections were burned in successive winters, the section next to the park in 1998 and the other in 1999. Following each burn, the sections were interplanted by hand with tubelings. Despite these fires, water oaks continue to be a problem on this site. The application of herbicide killed all the larger trees, but the canopy partially protected the smaller trees. Many of these resprouted after the fires and, together with sprouts from thousands of acorns, soon began to shade out the longleaf seedlings.
Competition from the oaks and the extremely dry weather in the years 1999-2001 have taken a toll on the longleaf seedlings. After the part of the site next to the park was burned in December of 2000, much of it was replanted. To control regrowth of water oaks, during the spring of 2001 herbicide was applied to the individual sprouts from a backpack sprayer. Later the same treatment was applied in the adjoining section.
Burning continues on a schedule of every three to fours years. Following each burn, there is some interplanting in spots where there are fewer longleafs. As stocking with longleafs is completed, burning with be shifted to spring and summer.
An additional 25 acres adjoining the original site was acquired in 1999. Nearly all of it is an old pasture and corn field that was planted with slash pines nearly 25 years ago. The young pines in this plantation have been thinned, as have those around the retention pond. Later, when the mature trees are harvested, these sections will be replanted with longleafs.