12/15/2011 12:48 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2012

National Fish and Wildlife Earns Grant to Restore Long Leaf Pines

Southeast habitat for turtles, birds, to be reforested
The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a non-profit located in Washington, has been awarded a public/private grant to help restore native long-leaf pine trees through re-planting and conservation. The timber industry, foresters harvesting for years, and the lack of fire in a pine forest has contributed to the demise of the special pine. The new fund will provide $3 million in the first year. Grant applications are being considered now with a February 15 deadline for nature and conservation groups to compete for the restoration funding.

NFWF, The Nature Conservancy and environmental groups in Columbus, GA hosted an event this week to familiarize bloggers and reporters with the need to replenish this unique southeastern U.S. ecosystem. The tall pine forest tour brought-in TV cameras and nature lovers.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is working with federal partner agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and U.S. Forest Services, as well as corporate partners like Southern Company, a major southeastern power utility. The Department of Defense is also involved in restoration particularly as the tall pines are located near bases including Ft. Benning, Georgia. The pines offer strategic cover.

The longleaf pine ecosystem once encompassed more than 90 million acres of North America. Today, only three percent of the original acreage remains due to deforestation. There are many threatened and endangered species that depend on the habitat -- for example, the red-cockaded woodpecker, the gopher tortoise and the indigo snake. The turtles and birds are struggling to survive according to the Nature Conservancy. Since 2004, a partnership between NFWF and Southern Company, the Longleaf Legacy Program, has invested over $8.7 million into projects that will restore more than 82,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on it. The new Longleaf Stewardship Fund will build on the success of the public/private partnership and expand the restoration.

"The involvement of our federal partners in the longleaf pine restoration effort is a tremendous addition that will make our program even stronger, broader and more effective," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF."

Southern Company's partner utilities including Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power are all involved in the legacy program. Mark Rice, a spokesman for the company, also noted the environmental benefits as the native long-leaf pine provides carbon sequestration in the atmosphere.

Chris Hobson, Southern Company chief environmental officer said: "We are ready to go to work with our newest partners, combining the best that public and private entities have to offer into a model of effective environmental stewardship."

Two of the additional objectives of the legacy program for longleaf pine are national defense and involvement of farmers and foresters.

Federal agencies require some private funding in this economy relative to fish and wildlife protection, forest health and landowner stewardship. The fund is available to grantees and offers environmentalists a three pronged in approach to obtain funds:

Grants ranging from $150,000 to $350,000 will be awarded for projects and programs focused on restoration of landscapes within "significant geographic areas" as defined in the Range-Wide Conservation Plan. That range is anchored by DOD Military Installations and Bases, USDA National Forests and US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges -- all program partners.

Grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 will be awarded for on-the-groundrestoration projects and species recovery efforts. These may include planting or protection ideas.

Grants will be awarded for expanding technical assistance to landowners.Pre-proposal applications will be accepted through February 15, 2012, with awards announced in summer 2012. For more information, visit Throughout the first year of the program, NFWF will work with its science team and its corporate partners to consider applications.

Mike Smith is a Washington, DC area writer and environmentalist interested in carbon footprint reduction. Applicants may also reply to this blog.