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Catawba College students help restore piedmont longleaf pine

Catawba College

SALISBURY — In the last week of fall classes, a dozen Catawba College biology and environment and sustainability majors blew off steam with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina. The students worked to restore a sensitive habitat near and dear to most North Carolinians — a longleaf pine savanna.

The state tree, longleaf pines are best known and most abundant in the rolling Sandhills and flat coastal plain of North Carolina. However, the fire-dependent longleaf pine communities are now being recognized for their biodiversity value in the eastern portion of the Uwharrie Mountains and the transitional area between the Uwharries and the sugar sand of the N.C. Sandhills.

The LandTrust was recently gifted 28-acre tract for conservation and restoration northeast of Star in Montgomery County. The restoration project is led by the LandTrust, and supported by partners including Catawba College, the N.C. Department of Forestry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montgomery County Community College and many other volunteers. The LandTrust’s goal is to restore longleaf pine communities to this corner of the piedmont, where they are not as well-known.

Stephen Daniels, left, and Matthew Eckard, right, hard at work. Submitted photo

Earlier in the fall, Catawba College students in Dr. Jay Bolin’s field botany course and Dr. Luke Dollar’s environmental field and skills laboratory participated in raking duff away from old turpentine stumps to protect them from the prescribed fire to prepare the site for planting. The students also raked leaf litter away from the few skinny and fire-suppressed long leaf pine to avoid damage to their shallow roots during the prescribed fire.

“These remaining longleaf pines will develop cones over the next few years as they are freed from hardwood competition and will help to reseed the site in longleaf,” Cody Fulk, stewardship director of the LandTrust, said.

During the last week of November 3,000 Piedmont strain longleaf pine grown by the N.C. Department of Forestry were planted over two days. Each small tree was planted by hand using a tree planting tool called a dibble bar.

“I can’t wait to come back and see how big these trees get in a few years,” Holly Kuhn, a Catawba College freshman, said.

The site was blackened with ash, and a few smoldering stump holes still emitted wisps of smoke as the Catawba College students and other volunteers planted each longleaf pine, gingerly setting them into the ground. At the end of the planting day — despite the ashy post-apocalyptic landscape — hundreds of bright green grass-stage longleaf pine stretched out in each direction and offered hope for the future.

“It feels great to be out here in the fresh air making a difference,” Catawba student Brooke Applebaum said.

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