Prior to European settlement, the longleaf pine grew in extensive pure stands throughout the coastal plains of the southeastern United States (4). Today, however, the distribution of pine savannas dominated by the longleaf pine is less than three percent of its original extent. The dramatic decline in its distribution is attributable to over harvesting, particularly during the 19th century, as well as clearance for urban development, agriculture and pine plantations (6). Furthermore, the fragmentation and mismanagement of the remaining stands has resulted in the suppression of wildfires, allowing non-fire tolerant hardwood species to outcompete the longleaf pine (2) (6) (8) (9). Consequently, broadleaved hardwood forests in the region are now far more extensive than they were in pre-settlement times (9).
Pine savannas dominated by the longleaf pine also characteristically support high levels of biodiversity (6). Thus the loss of the longleaf pine ecosystem is putting many other plants and animals at a high risk of extinction. In particular, old-growth longleaf pine stands are the preferred habitat of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (8) (9).