Projects that will help restore native longleaf pine and help protected wildlife are receiving Gulf Power-supported grants under the Longleaf Stewardship Fund.
Gulf Power’s parent company, Southern Company, joined the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to announce $3.38 million in grants aimed at protecting and restoring the diminishing longleaf pine ecosystem, including seven projects within the Southern Company service area in Northwest Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. The announcement was made Tuesday as part of a five-year anniversary celebration for America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative held in Washington, D.C.
The two projects in Northwest Florida spur restoration in Apalachicola National Forest and Blackwater River State Forest.
In Apalachicola National Forest and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy of Florida and its partners will establish 1,700 acres of longleaf pine and enhance more than 26,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat with prescribed fire, hardwood treatment and invasive species removal. The project will benefit the gopher tortoise, protect native wildlife and support the natural resource and encroachment protection goals of Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City.
Continuing restoration efforts at Blackwater River State Forest, the Longleaf Alliance and partners will prescribe fire on 20,000 acres, control invasive species on 350 acres, treat 1,100 acres of hardwoods and restore 330 acres of longleaf pine. The project also will support the natural resource and encroachment protection goals of Eglin Air Force Base by expanding potential off-base habitat for protected species, including the flatwoods salamander.
“These projects are helping restore critical native habitat that our area has lost,” said Natalie Smith, Gulf Power spokesperson. “It will take time, but we and our partners are committed to the long-term success of these restoration efforts. These projects throughout Northwest Florida and the Southeast all are working toward the same goal: restoring our legacy of longleaf pine and the native wildlife it supports.”
The Longleaf Stewardship Fund stems from the success of the Longleaf Legacy program, a partnership between Southern Company and NFWF from 2004-2011 that invested $8.7 million in projects expected to restore 82,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on it. Additionally, another 20,000 acres were restored through the company’s closely aligned Power of Flight program with NFWF.
The majestic longleaf pine ecosystem once covered more than 90 million acres across nine states from Virginia to Texas, but dropped to only 3 percent of its original acreage. With the diverse public-private commitment to longleaf pine restoration in recent years, longleaf pine forest has increased from roughly 3 million acres to an estimated 4.4 million acres, halting and reversing a century-long decline, benefiting many threatened and endangered species dependent on the habitat.