The entire state of New Jersey was once part of the range of the shortleaf pine, a native tree useful to people and wildlife. A 100-foot tree that thrives in poor upland soil, the shortleaf’s canopy lets in enough sunlight for a wide diversity of life on the forest floor.
Development eliminated most of the species in North Jersey, and since the 1980s, those in the south have declined by almost 50 percent, due in part to a severe national outbreak of pine beetle infestations.
Shortleaf pines were once so abundant in New Jersey that they were commercially harvested in two large swaths of land. The one in Monmouth and Middlesex counties is gone, but the other in the eastern Pine Barrens persists. There, one pure (more than 80 percent) section of shortleaf pine still exists, and several sections of mixed shortleaf pines and oaks are scattered throughout South Jersey.
A 2013 forest inventory found 6,837 acres of shortleaf pines in the state, with another 6,679 acres of shortleaf-oak mixed.
That same year, the Shortleaf Pine Initiative was begun to restore the tree throughout its range from New Jersey to Texas. Among its many federal and state agencies and conservation organizations is the N.J. Division of Parks and Forestry, which is increasing shortleaf pines in its Wharton and Byrne state forests and helping private landowners include them on their properties.
Initiative projects are helping wildlife as well as the pines. At Davy Crockett National Forest in Texas, the trees will improve habitat and provide cavity nesting areas for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. In Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, they’re helping reduce non-native, invasive plants and creating ideal nesting and brood range for wild turkeys.
Shortleaf pines are a good tree for the hotter New Jersey expected as a result of climate change. They adapt to greater ranges of temperature, precipitation and soil quality than other pines. And they depend on the occasional forest fire to give them an advantage over other trees — with seedlings and saplings that sprout from special buds after a fire.
The state forestry division hopes to increase shortleaf pines to 30,000 acres in the next 10 years.
Private landowners with at least 5 acres can take part through the state’s Forest Stewardship Program, which offers such benefits as recognition for environmentally responsible management and financial management assistance.
Homeowners can take part too. The state’s Forest Service Nursery will take orders for shortleaf pine seedlings in December for spring planting at forestnursery.nj.gov.
All in all, these efforts will help ensure that pinelands forests and communities have native trees that can take the heat of the future.