Saturday, February 2, 2008

Losing the Last Of Its Kind

Sometime in mid-January, the last old-growth longleaf pine forest in lower Alabama (just east of Flomaton) was beheaded. The 60-acre area was well known, well researched, and well used. What made this forest biologically unique is that it was well over 3 centuries old and was among the last parcel of land of its kind in the world (only a few other virgin longleaf pine stands remain across 9 southern states; and now no more of its kind in Alabama). To put it another way, this one forest was over 100 years old before Alabama became a state in 1819.

The original owner of the tract in the early 1900's was Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company and the owner set it aside on purpose (having cut everything else around it). Local folklore indicates this owner called it the "hell freezes over area"; which were the conditions under which he would have cut it. Since then, the property has changed hands several times; all to large timber companies. Because of its rarity, these forestry companies continued to preserve the location as natural area significant to Alabama and the Southeast. In 1963, the National Society of American Foresters (SAF) designated it as E. A. Hauss Old Growth Longleaf Natural Area. The SAF definition of a natural area is "a tract of land set aside to preserve permanently in unmodified condition a representative unit of virgin growth of a major forest type, with the preservation primarily for scientific and educational purposes". The area was used extensively by local 4-H clubs, civic groups, etc. In 1998 when the adjacent state highway was widened, Champion International offered the trees removed from the right-of-way to Colonial Williamsburg to restore historic buildings due to the scarcity of old growth longleaf pine timbers. Also, Auburn University School of Forestry used the area for over a decade to study the conditions of longleaf pine forests in their most primal state. It was later renamed the Flomaton Natural Area

It seems that the tract was recently divested by Resource Management Services out of Birmingham to an adjacent landowner who then clear-cut the area and sold the old logs. RMS purports to have contacted various conservation organizations to see if they had an interest in buying the property.

In his supremely excellent book "A Sand County Almanac" ecologist Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife biology lamented the destruction and extinction of the Great Auk by saying "and the sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all." I wonder if the people who destroyed this 60 acre patch of what once was thought of anything at all as they carried out their unncessary deed?

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