Sprucing up Tyndall’s forests

  • Published
  • By Venessa Armenta
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s environmental flight forestry program is expected to achieve a significant milestone this year of planting approximately 7.5 million longleaf pine trees throughout Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.  

Following the devastation of Hurricane Michael, members of the forestry program deliberately ramped up efforts, planting longleaf pine trees and other native plants to replenish what was lost in the storm.

“Catastrophic winds damaged 12,000 acres of upland pine forest, requiring a massive cleanup effort,” said Melanie Kaeser, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecologist. “A total of 9,419 acres of forest were clear cut, and approximately 235,000 tons of debris was removed.”

The hurricane not only destroyed vegetation but impacted the wildlife living in the area. According to Richard Turner, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron base forester and Kaeser, the lack of forests has negatively impacted wildlife habitats for the upland dwelling species such as bird nesting and food collection, as well as hatching sea turtles as they become easily disoriented due to light pollution.

Due to relief funding and partnerships with state, federal, and local government agencies as well as nonprofit organizations, the team resumed tree planting efforts in January 2020.

“Partnering with this diverse group of agencies and organizations is important because we work together to understand land management practices and how we can best restore the longleaf pine ecosystem on a regional scale,” said Kaeser. “We share land management resources as well as lessons. So, we can collectively be more successful in achieving long-term ecosystem management goals on our individual properties and regionally.”

Before Hurricane Micheal, Tyndall’s forestry program was a self-supporting program. The foresters would cut down some of the surrounding trees to be sold to timber organizations generating base income for tasks such as prescribed burning, roller chopping, purchasing tree seedlings, herbicide, and tree planting. However, the program has been relying on donations to keep efforts going.

“The forest is important for many reasons,” said Richard Turner. “It is used for sound control, wildlife habitat, and recreational events, like hunting, hiking, and fishing. Tree replacement takes time. We are working hard to get trees into the forest, but it is up to nature to let them survive.”

Longleaf pine trees take between 25 to 30 years to reach full maturity. They are planted as seedlings between November and January, as they are less likely to survive the hot summer months. Subsequently, the trees require specific conditions to ensure survival, such as regularly prescribed burns to mitigate shrubbery. Because these trees require such specific conditions to thrive, caring for them can be difficult, but members of the forestry program understand the benefits their reforestation efforts provide.

“Restoring the structure and function of the ecosystem is a priority for Tyndall because we are creating a more resilient ecosystem that will recover quicker from natural disasters like hurricanes,” said Kaeser. “Additionally, when longleaf pine forests are managed with low-intensity fire frequently, it greatly reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires.”

The forestry program anticipates meeting their goal of 7.5 million trees planted by early February 2024. Though it will take some time for the trees to mature, members of the forestry program are committed to continuing their efforts to upkeep and maintain Tyndall’s Forests for service members as well as wildlife.