Longleaf pine trees can grow as tall as 100 feet and live for more than 300 years. In Florida, where they are native, they provide habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, black bears and gopher tortoises. But because of development, the use of the trees for lumber, the spread of agriculture and devastation from storms, longleaf pines aren't as widespread as they once were. According to The National Wildlife Federation, the trees once covered 90 million acres. Today, they cover less than 3 percent of that.
"The increase in especially strong storms in recent years has jeopardized many populations of longleaf pines, particularly in northwest Florida, which felt the brunt of the impact of Hurricane Michael," says Alex Cronin, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Cronin says Torreya State Park, Three Rivers State Park and Florida Caverns State Park, all located in the Florida panhandle, "sustained major losses of mature longleaf pine trees" because of Hurricane Michael.
To boost the pine population, the Florida State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that supports Florida parks, last month launched a new campaign called Plant a Pine. Give $1 and the foundation will be able to plant one new pine in a state park. The goal is to raise $100,000 to plant 100,000 new trees by Earth Day next year.
The State Parks Foundation has already raised more than $11,000 and has identified four parks where trees will be planted, two of them in the Sarasota area. Sarasota's Oscar Scherer State Park will receive 1,500 pines and Bradenton's Lake Manatee State Park will get another 2,500.
Other parks identified for the first wave of plantings are Torreya State Park and Lake Wales' Lake Kissimmee State Park, where 70 trees will be planted to honor Kristin Jacobs, a Florida state representative and State Parks Foundation board member who died last month. The actual planting will take place between December and next February. The seedlings fare better when planted in the winter.
"We're well on our way," says Julia Woodward, the chief executive officer of the State Parks Foundation, "but we still have a long way to go." Woodward says that supporting Plant a Pine is a "tangible impact that people can have on their state parks."