Croatan Forest

Years of timber harvesting and urbanization has devastated this North Carolina Forest. Now the US forest service is working to restore the Forest Ecosystem by actually setting fire to the land.

TRANSCRIPT

Years of timber harvesting and urbanization have devastated this North Carolina forest.

Now the US Forest Service is working to restore the forest ecosystem by actually setting fire to the land.

Take a look as this story unfolds.

This is not what we want.

So this stand here was planted in loblolly back in the 1970s when the main goal of the Forest Service was to produce timber, and loblolly was a faster-growing species.

So this is what we want.

These trees here started growing here in about 1890.

This is the longleaf pine forest.

It is the natural ecosystem in North Carolina's Coastal Plain.

Centuries of timber harvesting and urbanization removed most of the longleaf pine forest across the Southeast.

That's why the US Forest Service is restoring the longleaf pine forest in Croatan National Forest, but to do that requires fire.

Once the loblolly pine trees are harvested, fire is vital to restoring the longleaf pine forest.

It is one of the nation's most endangered ecosystems.

So we were having a fire every 2-year or 3-year cycle to try and get what you're seeing here established.

Right.

So this was just burned just a couple months ago.

Are you amazed?

Look at this now.

It's all green.

Yeah, it recovers pretty quick with the moisture that we've received and all of that stuff.

The type of soil allows quick growth, so having fire in the area knocks down the understory where we can actually have more manageable fire, and it also opens up the sunlight and oxygen air to get new growth.

Longleaf pine is very dependent on fire to survive.

It grows as a grass when it's little, so the fire can burn over it, and it clears everything else around it, and it responds back really quickly.

It's naturally just adaptive to fire regimes, so then your longleaf in the grass stage is a seedling, which this is one right here.

See, it looks just like a clump of grass, so when the fire burns over it, it just burns it as if it's grass, and the bud is below the surface and is protected from the fire.

It spends 2 to 3 to 5 years just growing its root system, and it just stays as grass, and then eventually something clicks in it, and it starts in a shoot elongation and starts growing up.

Just pine bark in general, especially in longleaf, the bark is a very good insulator.

To kill the tree, the fire is going to have to hot enough to pop the cambium that's inside behind the bark where all the nutrients flow up and down.

So this bark just insulates the tree, and also with the fissures in here, the heat will kind of channel up the tree instead of just sitting here.

That careful management helps preserve and restore the longleaf pine forest, which is a mix of tall trees and savanna plus bogs and raised swamps called pocosins.

This longleaf pine savannah-type ecosystem prior to European settlement was about 90 million acres.

As of today, we have around 4 million acres of that habitat left.

The majority of that habitat is on national forest land across the country.

The longleaf pine is one of the most ecologically important tree species in the South.

Nine hundred plant species plus hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are found in the longleaf pine forest.

A small difference in elevation makes a huge difference in the vegetation and how water is retained on the landscape.

Twenty-nine of those species are endangered, including the red-cockaded woodpecker.

A big thing about woodpeckers is we call them primary cavity excavators, so they're the birds that go in and make the cavity into the tree.

A whole suite of species will use that cavity for nesting, for some life stage.

With such a unique landscape, it's not surprising that Croatan is also home to the largest collection of carnivorous plants of any national forest.

Here on the Croatan, you know, we have the Venus flytrap.

Again, they tend to be found in these nutrient-poor areas that aren't too dry, aren't too wet, has to be just right, and so, you know, they can't just grow anywhere.

And when you're a little carnivorous plant laying flat on the ground, it doesn't take much to shade you out, and none of these things can live without sunlight.

They're completely fire dependent.

The small different little micro-habitats within the larger landscape just increases your diversity, increases the value, the ecological value, of that area.