Without Fire, The “Piney Woods” Become Something Else. Without Fire, Other Shrubs And Trees, Mostly Oaks, Begin Growing Among The Pines. They Block Sunlight From Reaching The Wildflowers; The Rare Wildflowers Disappear, The Insects That Eat The Wildflowers Disappear, And In Turn The Animals That Eat The Insects Disappear. A Forest Will Be Present, But It Will Be A Wholly Different Forest.
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You Could Say These Forests Are Encouraging Fire: The Pines Produce Long, Resinous Needles That Constantly Fall To The Ground As Tinder, And Even The Wiregrass Holds Its Old, Dry, Brown, Flammable Blades Above Ground And Stores Most Of Its Living Mass Below. Although These Ecological Tricks Served The Ecosystem Well For Many Thousands Of Years, They Were No Match For The March Of Civilization. Given What We Have Left Now, If We Want To Save Any Of This Forest Type And Its Many Endangered Species, We Will Have To Be The Ones To Do The Forest’S Bidding And Light The Flames.
All Over The South, Land Managers Are Rising To This Challenge. Countless Dollars And Human Hours Are Spent Caring For These Forests On Life Support. The Moody Forest Had Not Been Burned Frequently Enough In The Decades Preceding Its Acquisition By The Nature Conservancy, And Now The Forest Is The Subject Of Intensive Management. I Could See Where The Small, Invading Oaks Had Been Cut Out By Hand, And Where A Human-Set Fire Had Recently Scorched The Bark Of The Pines.
When The Nature Conservancy Obtained The Property, There Was Only One Nesting Pair Of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, Another Species Made Rare Because Of Its Vanishing Habitat. Then Something Happened To The Female Bird, And For Two Years Only A Single Male Returned. This Year A Pair Of Captive Woodpeckers Were Relocated To The Forest. The Trees Here Are Old, And The Forest Has Never Been Cleared, But The Scent Of Humanity Is Everywhere.
When I Approached The Wind-Sculpted Pine I Had Been Admiring, I Saw That A Numbered Tag Had Been Nailed Into It. Number Twelve, I Touch Your Charred Bark, I See How Delicate The Sinuous Flakes Are. And Under The Charred Flakes I See The Fresh, Reddish Ones; Their Turn For Sacrifice Will Come Next. And Beneath That Layer I Count Thirty More Thin Layers. And I Know That Deep Below There Is Another Layer Forming This Very Moment. How Much Old- Growth Longleaf Pine Habitat Will Be Left In The Next Century? Do We Have The Ability To Regain Any Of What We Have Lost?
Rachel Carson Says, “I Believe That The More Clearly We Can Focus Our Attention On The Wonders And Realities Of The Universe About Us, The Less Taste We Shall Have For Destruction.” The Song Of The Pines Is Just One Of The Many Wonders This Forest Holds.
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