Ecosystem Management

Forest management has steadily evolved throughout the last century.  Over the last decade or more, the most common shift in thinking and planning has been toward an "ecosystem-based" management approach.  This ecosystem-based approach involves: 

  • focusing on long term resource sustainability
  • maintaining and enhancing biodiversity
  • thinking in broad spatial and temporal scales
  • integrating economics, sociology and ecological systems in planning
  • adapting management plans in response to monitoring and new scientific information
  • recognizing the complexity and interconnections of ecosystems
  • recognizing that humans are part of the ecosystem

For more information, read the University of Florida Extension Publication: Ecosystem Management (EM) as a Basis for Forest Stewardship on Private Lands

Restoring Longleaf Pine Sandhill Communities

pineSandhill or high pine communities are upland savanna-like ecosystems typified by an open overstory of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and a ground cover of perennial grasses (primarily wiregrass) and forbs interspersed with oaks.  High pine ecosystems once encompassed the following community types:  sandhill, clayhill, longleaf pine/turkey oak barrens, and upland pine forests.

Ancient ecosystems such as this one often bring us a sense of posterity and remind us of the balance of natural forces over time.  In natural longleaf pine forests, intervals between burns were 3 to 4 years. When fire is suppressed, these longleaf communities will succeed to hardwood forests characterized by higher shading, greater litter accumulation, and less herbaceous vegetation than in longleaf forests. 

Additional Resources

Florida Forestry Information

University of Florida Extension Publication

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Fire Reintroduction

photo by Mike JacobsonOne method many forest managers are using to restore longleaf pine ecosystems is reintroduction of fire to sandhills.  However, fire is a successful restoration tool only when there is a sufficient ground cover of grass and pine needles, which act as a major fuel source.

Stands which have been excluded from fire for 15 to 30 years lack sufficient ground fuel to support an effective fire.  This lack of ground fuel restricts fire's intensity and its ability to spread.  As a result, new restoration methods must be introduced.

For more information about prescribed burns, visit our Fire page.

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Using Herbicide to Restore Native Plants

wiregrass, photo by Julie Anne Ferguson DemersForest herbicides such as hexazinone have been used with success to suppress the growth of midstory oaks while promoting the growth of longleaf pine seedlings and wiregrass (Aristida stricta), the understory grass species associated with longleaf pine. 

Chemical Effects of Hexazinone

Hexazinone is a selective herbicide registered for use in pine management for site preparation, release, and herbaceous weed control.  It is absorbed from the soil solution by plant roots.  Inside the plant it binds to a specific protein and inhibits important reactions necessary for the plant to survive.

This herbicide is more effective on soils with high sand content, low pH (acidic), and low organic matter content.  These conditions are typical of soils in the southeastern U.S.  Southern pines and grasses are more resistant to hexazinone, while oaks are more susceptible, making it a good candidate for assisting in the restoration of sandhill plant communities.

Hexazinone is soluble in water and has been found to persist in the soil for relatively short periods of time.  It is not registered for aquatic use so it must not be applied in close proximity to such areas.  As always, read all herbicide labels before use.

See our Vegetation Management page for more information.

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