The early settlers of this country saw a vast area of tall stately trees stretching from southwestern Virginia to Florida then through
Louisiana to eastern Texas. Thus stood our longleaf pine forest. It was said a squirrel could travel from the east coast all the way into Florida without ever setting foot on the ground by moving through the treetops of
longleaf pine, termed the great rain forest of North America. In the beginning it was just thought of being an impassable hindrance to western expansion. Though this view began to change in the mid 1500's as hogs and other
livestock were introduced into these woods to graze, around this same time period some naval stores production began to take place.
The Longleaf Pine Growing Range: By the early 1700's came the
introduction of numerous water-powered sawmills as the value of the timber continued to be realized. With the 1800's came the introduction of steam power and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with its steamboats,
logging railroads, steam skidders (heavy, four-wheel tractors used to haul logs over rugged terrain), and steam-powered sawmills, all built in increasing numbers. The same period saw massive turpentining as copper stills were
taken into the forest. It was stated in the mid 1800's that the supply of Longleaf pine timber was endless. By "1920" though, most of the remaining
virgin forests of the south were logged, gone.
Through this period of time the trees had been shipped to Great Britain and Europe, used for naval stores of pitch, tar, rosin, and turpentine, used for
railroads, ship building (first the English Navy then the American Navy), and used for the construction of factories, warehouses and other buildings of
commerce, as well as bridges and wharves. The keel of the U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides" was made from a single longleaf pine timber while longleaf planks were used for its deck.
It has been reported that the size of that early longleaf pine forest was 70 to 90 million acres. Today just over 3 million acres exist; over 96% are gone.
Moreover, only 1,000 acres of that are virgin timbers, the rest are second growth. Sadly, the decline continues today. It is still among the most
"bio-diverse" of all forest systems, supporting hundreds of plant and animal species especially adapted to the conditions that exist in healthy longleaf
forests. However, because of the decline of longleaf acreage, over 30 plant and animal species associated with longleaf ecosystems are
threatened or endangered. Other species languish in diminishing numbers or are constrained by changes in land use due to forest practices.