Larry Woodward, Assistant Refuge Manager for the Lower Suwannee NWR gave an hour long talk for the Cedar Key Garden Club to 24 attendees at the library on February 4, 2015. Mr Woodward gave a brief history of the Long Leaf pine and how the tree species once occupied 90 million continuous acres in the southeast, from Virginia south to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, there are no large continuous tracts of the Long Leaf pine and now perhaps only 3% of the 90 million acres of the tree survive. More than 30 endangered and threatened wildlife depend on this ecosystem and approximately 640 species of plants are restricted to Long Leaf pine habitats, including 187 rare plant species.
When the Lower Suwannee NWR took over the 55,000 acres that is now the Refuge, there were only a handful of Long Leaf pine trees left. Most of the pine trees in the Refuge are Slash pines because the land was once a tree farm and the Slash pines were planted there as a crop. Over the years, the staff has managed the refuge to improve the habitat for the plants and animals. Thousands of Slash pines have been harvested and thousands of Long Leaf pine tree seedlings planted. The remaining Slash pines have been thinned out and burning is an active means used to improve the habitat. Long Leaf pines are not only fire resistant, but dependent on frequent non-intense fires to thrive. Mr Woodward encouraged people to come out to look at the planted Long Leaf pine on the Refuge.