By Peter Coutu
Integral to Virginia’s history, the pine once dominated most of the region.
For decades, though, the longleaf has been struggling to survive in an environment no longer suited for it. The pine, which thrives under regular burn cycles, stopped getting the necessary fire treatment when earlier residents started extinguishing the blazes that would have killed off competition. And timber companies harvested the longleaf until the tree largely vanished.
At the turn of the century, fewer than 200 such mature conifers remained in Virginia.
In turn, the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers plummeted with the loss of that habitat. Now federally endangered, one could just about count the remaining birds in the state on two hands.
But a group of conservationists from multiple agencies are on a mission to save the state’s so-called “Founding Forest” and with it, the state’s most scarce bird.