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New grants will help restore, expand Alabama’s native longleaf pine forests

Efforts to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests in Alabama are receiving a significant boost from the most recent round of grant awards through the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund, supported by Alabama Power, its parent Southern Company and other partners.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced $18 million in new conservation grants from the longleaf stewardship fund. It is the largest annual amount ever given, over a span of 20 years of grant-giving, to support longleaf pine restoration.

Combined with more than $14.7 million in matching contributions, the total conservation impact is expected to top $32 million – benefiting longleaf restoration efforts across nine Southeast states.

Longleaf pine forests are some of the most biodiverse in the world, providing habitat for 29 species listed as threatened or endangered, NFWF said in a news release. Once the predominant forest type from Virginia to Texas, over two centuries the original native longleaf forests have shrunk dramatically because of timbering, human development and other factors.

The longleaf stewardship fund provides financial support to multiple partners working on projects that are contributing to the larger America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, a strategic plan to ultimately restore 8 million acres of longleaf pine forest.

A mature longleaf forest. (Christine Ambrose / National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)

Longleaf pine habitats benefit numerous wildlife species in Alabama and across the Southeast, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, Mississippi sandhill crane and gopher tortoise, as well as game species such as wild turkey and white-tailed deer.

“Alabama Power has long been a partner in helping to restore native longleaf pines in Alabama and protect the incredibly diverse array of plants and animals that rely on them,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “This latest round of funding, supporting many of our local, nonprofit conservation partners, will help all of us to advance our conservation goals.”

“The Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund continues to expand the power of public-private partnerships to support critical conservation needs,” said Jeff Burleson, Southern Company senior vice president of Environment, System Planning and Sustainability. “Southern Company is proud of our 20-year commitment to restore the longleaf ecosystem and all its ecological benefits.”

The grants supporting projects in Alabama will go to five organizations: the Longleaf Alliance, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, the Forest Landowners Association, the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Forestry Foundation. The Alabama projects range from longleaf restoration and forest expansion to outreach efforts to property owners to encourage them to plant longleaf on private lands. The projects span Alabama, from efforts to enhance mountain longleaf ecosystems in northeast Alabama to longleaf habitat restoration in South Alabama and along the state’s Gulf Coastal Plain.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is among the important species that rely on the longleaf pine. (contributed)

“Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund dollars, matched by AWF dollars, allow us to continue our work with private landowners in Alabama to benefit longleaf and native grassland systems, and the wildlife and plants that thrive in those landscapes,” said Tim L. Gothard, AWF executive director.

“Alabama Power, Southern Company, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Alabama private landowners have been our pivotal partners in this endeavor for well over a decade. It is a win-win for people and wildlife,” Gothard said.

Other public and private partners are also involved in the work supported by the longleaf stewardship fund, including the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In all, 28 projects across the Southeast are receiving funding. The projects are expected to establish more than 50,000 acres of new longleaf pine habitat through plantings, and enhance an additional 450,000 acres through prescribed burning and other practices, including invasive species removal, NFWF officials said.

Longleaf pine seedlings. (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)

“The 28 projects … reflect years of hard work by organizations dedicated to the voluntary restoration of the longleaf ecosystem and represent a banner year for longleaf pine conservation that will advance innovative approaches to expand and improve longleaf pine forests and surrounding habitat,” Jeff Trandahl, NFWF executive director and CEO, said in the news release.

“These projects are game changers, especially for expanding nursery capacity and reforestation efforts, which are needed to reach the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative’s goal of restoring 8 million acres,” Trandahl said.

The collaboration is expected to reap another benefit: spurring production of more than 20 million longleaf seedlings over the next five years, which NFWF officials said are critical to expanding and sustaining longleaf pine restoration. The work is also expected to support more than 200 jobs.

NFWF’s investments in longleaf pine habitat restoration began in 2004 through the Longleaf Legacy program, funded through a partnership with Southern Company and its affiliates, including Alabama Power. NFWF officials said the longleaf stewardship fund, launched in 2012, has built on the success of Longleaf Legacy, expanding the number of funding partners to include federal agencies and additional private sector and nonprofit partners.

To view a complete list of the 2023 grants made through the longleaf stewardship fund, click here. To learn more about Alabama Power’s stewardship efforts, click here.