An East Carolina biologist hopes to restore a long-leaf pine savanna to the Universitys West Research Campus.
Based on ecological surveys of the former Voice of America site, David Knowles believes an effort should be made to revive the diverse and rather rare ecosystem.
We would like to restore portions of the 580-acre site to native ecosystems, including longleaf savanna, Knowles said. It is our hope that the West Research Campus could someday be a place of research and recreation and offer people a chance to reconnect to the coastal plains natural heritage.
As part of an awareness effort about the state tree, a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council is enabling Knowles to organize a community celebration, The Longleaf Pine Forest: Reconnecting with our Heritage Through Restoration. The free event will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Willis Building.
In addition to artwork, photography and information about the longleaf pine, award-winning nature writers Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, and Lawrence Earley, author of Looking for Longleaf: the Fall and Rise of an American Forest, will speak at 7 p.m. Students and faculty from ECUs School of Art will present woodworking projects, and paintings by Thomas Bennett, an artist in residence for NC Museum of Natural History, will also be on display. Information about the West Research Campus and the longleaf pine will also be available.
Photos taken in the 1960s indicate that a longleaf pine savanna once covered much of the West Research Campus, Knowles said. Conversion of the landscape to agricultural production, as well as demand for turpentine, resin and timber from longleaf pine trees, has eliminated much of the savanna from eastern North Carolina. The West Research Campus, said Knowles, is unique because it had never been used for farmland and, thanks to continued mowing and prescribed burning, diverse, fire-dependent species characteristic of savannas are in abundance on the property.
What we have here is a unique situation, he said. Most savannas have been lost in this area. Until the turn of the century, they were lost because of the conversion of land to agriculture. Now the sweet gum tree has displaced the pine.
In addition to being the state tree, Knowles notes that the longleaf pine is central to the state toast: Heres to the Land of the Longleaf Pine, and is the reason why North Carolina is referred to as the Tar Heel State. The tree is even part and parcel to the Order of the Longleaf Pine, the prestigious Governors Award.
There is a lot of history with this tree and forest and it would be great to see the community embrace restoring its habitat at the West Research Campus, Knowles said. It will probably take one or two generations to get it back. But youve got to start sometime.