20 Oct Looking at a career in forestry thanks to Environment for the Americas
I have spent six months as a USFS resource assistant at Kisatchie National Forest, and I’ve learned a lot about the Longleaf Pine ecosystem and the plants and animals that live within. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) used to span from Texas in Virginia as the dominant overstory species before colonists laid waste to those forests. This was undoubtedly a contributing factor in the extinction of the passenger pigeon, which fed upon longleaf seeds, along with perhaps other species of animals, plants, and fungi which never became known to science. Numerous species which depend on pine savannah are still at extreme risk of extinction, including the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis Ruthveni) top left (I finally met one).
Restoring even a fraction of their original habitat is an immense task. It is well known that the USFS has been struggling to implement sufficient controlled burning nationwide. Longleaf pine forests once burned every few years for hundreds of miles uninterrupted. Native people set fires to clear ground for agriculture and flush out game. Colonists actively suppressed wildfires, and their roads acted as fire breaks, so the once open forest grew dark and bushy. The longleaf seedlings cling to the ground for years before surging upwards. They store energy in their roots and stem, which are protected from fire. If fire does not occur, the longleafs will languish under the shade of faster growing plants. So we must burn more, everything I have observed at work supports this conclusion.
I have been provided a three-month extension, so I will continue to work and learn in this forest. It seems likely I will be hired here permanently, but whether here or elsewhere I will work for nature, to the best of my understanding, preserving the indispensable species we share this good planet with. For the rest of my life, I will be proving that I was deserving of this gift of an opportunity.