Georgia landowners are in line for $3.1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help restore longleaf pine stands — critical habitat for endangered birds, tortoises, snakes and other critters.
The Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Tuesday that $10.6 million is to be spent on private lands across nine states where the majestic longleaf pines once flourished. Development, logging and fires have slashed the Southeast’s longleaf pine territory by 97 percent — near the point of extinction — over the past two centuries.
The pines once covered the coastal plains and provided a lush ecosystem for 29 threatened or endangered species, including the gopher tortoise, black pine snake and red cockaded woodpecker. Fifty or so species of wildflowers, shrubs, grasses and ferns thrive in the pine forests.
Over the past five years, nearly 300,000 acres of pine — 65,000 acres in Georgia — have been restored nationwide, according to the USDA. The goal is 8 million acres by 2025. Other agencies and nonprofits are also working to revitalize longleaf pine forests.
The money will help landowners and forest managers plant trees and burn underbrush.