Learning About Southern Forests

Southern forests are different than anywhere that I have explored before. I am currently working in Kisatchie National Forest, located in the west-central and northwestern areas of Louisiana. The forest is divided into five ranger districts of the Caney, Calcasieu, Catahoula, Kisatchie, and Winn.

Map from https://www.fs.fed.us/sopa/state-level.php?la

The climate of the area is subtropical, with summer temperatures ranging from 85℉ to 95℉ (~26℃ to 36℃) and winter temperatures averaging 55℉ to 65℉ (~12℃ to 18℃). Working out in the field this fall has been great—the weather is cool enough where most insects are less active, but it is still nice and sunny. The average humidity in the region is 74%, and the average rainfall is 59 inches (~150 cm), with the wet season falling from April to September. Most areas of the forests are flat with some rolling hills, and the elevation can range from 80 feet above sea level in floodplains to 425 feet above sea level in the hills.

Moving to a new area, I’ve had to learn new trees. For example, I learned that the forest is made up of mixed hardwood and pine, with the latter dominating in some areas and hardwoods in others. For the pines, I have learned about longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinate), loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and slash pine (Pinus Plliottii). There is a variety of hardwoods here, but on the job, I mostly encounter southern red oak (Quercus falcata), willow oak (Quercus phellos), white oak (Quercus alba), and blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica). 

View of a pine forest on the Longleaf interpretive trail in the Kisatchie district.

The forest is located in the Natchitoches, Osage, Natchez, and Caddo tribe’s ancestral land. Natchitoches, the town about 30 miles from my district, is the oldest European settlement in the 1714 Louisiana Purchase. The forest was also used as a training site in World War Two, evidence which is still seen today like the bombing range pond. Today, people use the forest for hunting, hiking, horseback riding, ATV riding, and camping. Forestry in Louisiana has a long history, with almost the whole state being clear cut by the 1930s. Reforestation efforts mainly focused on loblolly pine because of its rapid growth and ability to reseed in bare soils. The district I work is currently replanting longleaf pine to provide habitat for local wildlife, such as the Red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus Borealis).

Photo of the World War Two bombing range on the Winn district, now a pond along a horse trail.

With the precipitation the forest receives and the high drainage of soils, there are plenty of streams, creeks, and ponds throughout its ranges. These provide great habitats for a variety of wildlife such as waterfowl, crawfish, deer, and turtles to name a few. When I am working, I mostly keep an eye out for snakes, boars, spiders, and mosquitos. Part of the reason why I have loved working out here is learning about the history of the area and getting a chance to see new wildlife and plants.

A beetle I found on a lunch break crawling along with a decomposing log.

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