Silviculture's impact on the historical shortleaf component of pine forests in the Upper West Gulf Coastal Plain.
Silvicultural practices and human-induced alterations to natural disturbance regimes have contributed to a dramatic decline in shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) across most of the Upper West Gulf Coastal Plain (UWGCP). The increased preference for faster-growing loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) in natural-origin stands, coupled with the spread of loblolly plantations and less fire on the landscape, have selected against shortleaf pine. While many are interested in reversing shortleaf's decline, remarkably little is known about the composition and structure of historical UWGCP natural-origin pine stands, and this lack of knowledge constrains our ability to establish restoration goals. As a first step, this review first contrasts the shortleaf composition of the virgin forest with that of well-stocked second-growth in the first half of the 20th century using a variety of sources. For instance, two extensive inventories conducted by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 1930s in northeastern Louisiana and southeastern Arkansas surveyed cutover pinelands. Shortleaf pine was a prominent component in both inventories across all size classes, accounting for 20 to 40 percent of the pine sawtimber volume in many second-growth forests. These statistics are supported by later regional inventories as well as other UWGCP-based studies on wood decay, selective logging, site quality, pulpwood thinning, and seed tree management. Such examples can help identify the silvicultural contributions to this decline, thereby laying the foundation for conservation options.