Restoring longleaf pines, keystone of once vast ecosystems

DESOTO NATIONAL FOREST, Miss. (AP) — Three centuries ago, much of what is now the southern United States was covered with fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines. By the 1900s, less than 3% of America’s longleaf pine forests remained. Logging, clear-cutting for farms and development and fire suppression had all but eliminated the trees and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished. Now, landowners, nonprofits and government agencies are working in nine coastal states from Virginia to Texas to bring back longleaf pines. The trees are named for the footlong needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets.