Managing the Forest for Endangered Species

I arrive at the USFS work center in Bentley Louisiana, within the Catahoula District of Kisatchie National Forest. The site surrounded by a seed orchard which provides seedlings to the district for planting after timber harvests. In the early morning, purple martins swoop and dive through the open spaces around their nests.

When weather is permitting, I will be in the forest somewhere marking timber or recording the marking of timber. I enjoy working in the forest, despite the heat and biting parasites. If the USFS management plan is successfully enacted, this landscape will be sparsely populated with longleaf pine, and not many other mature trees. Longleafs are highly resilient to fire. It is supposed that these ecosystems once burned every few years. Two endangered species, the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis ruthveni ) and the Red Cockaded Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis), are known to favor this ecosystem type. It is hoped that recreating the habitat that was destroyed by generations of logging will sustain them. Many of the USFS employees here occupy themselves with controlled burns of the forest, which will give an advantage to longleafs, as well as a different understory composition dominated by grasses. The challenge is burning frequently enough for the plan to succeed, when fire is inherently difficult to manage. When it’s not too wet to burn, it is often hazardously hot. 

The pines grow tall and straight over the beautyberry, grape, blackberry and other plants which are loathed by the  timber markers as obstacles which should have been burned or plowed out of the way. Sweetgum, hickory, oak, and other hardwoods grow up most places, and especially in the riparian or low-lying areas or “drains”, but these species are not favored in the restoration  plan. Nevertheless, occasionally in the forest, a large old oak or hickory is allowed to persist, its graceful crown a surreal contrast amongst the rows of straight vertical pine trunks.

Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina),  a common secondary-growth species in Kisatchie National Forest

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