U.S. Fish & Wildlife appoints Clay Ware as Southeast Region's Longleaf Pine Recovery Coordinator; forester aims to reach out to private landowners to encourage planting, proper management of longleaf

WASHINGTON, D.C. , April 11, 2012 (press release) – The first time the Southeast Region’s new Longleaf Pine Recovery Coordinator drove through the longleaf forest on a refuge in South Carolina, he was unimpressed.

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge is a premiere site for viewing remnants of the longleaf ecosystem, but for Clay Ware in 2002, it looked like a bunch of pine trees. In part, it was an observation by comparison: Clay had just completed his master’s thesis at North Carolina State on the best ways to regenerate the globally endangered Atlantic white cedar forest, the regal cypress trees that inhabit coastal swamps.

Then the longleaf worked its magic.

“I went from ‘Oh, it’s just pine,’ to ‘It’s really cool pine,’” said Clay.

Clay was the refuge’s forester from 2002 to 2006. He walked through much of the 38,000-acre longleaf pine forest, inventorying the trees, monitoring their health, coordinating prescribed burns, and assisting with recovery activities for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that lives primarily in longleaf pine trees.

When Clay left the refuge in 2006, it was to advance his career. But he always planned to come back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In anticipation of his return, he kept his nicest brown Service uniforms, the ones not stained with tree marking paint and longleaf pine sap.

After stints with the U.S. Army Environmental Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and as U.S. Forest Service Liaison to the Air Force in Texas, Clay is back with the Fish and Wildlife Service, working with longleaf pine. (The uniforms still fit.)

This time, Clay jumped at the chance to work in the longleaf ecosystem. He started his new job in late March, replacing Laurie Fenwood, who retired last year as the Southeast Region’s Longleaf Pine Recovery Coordinator. Clay’s office is in the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, but he’s hoping to go into the woods often.

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going,” Clay said of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, which set a 15-year goal to more than double the amount of longleaf from Virginia to Texas, to 8 million acres. The Fish and Wildlife Service is a major partner in the effort, investing about $10 million a year on restoration of the longleaf and recovery efforts for the threatened and endangered species that depend on the ecosystem.

“I see myself as a champion for longleaf restoration,” Clay said. “I need to be an advocate for longleaf, and I want to motivate people to keep their interest level high.”

Restoring longleaf on public land is the easy part, he said. “We need to reach out to the private landowners and provide incentives for them to plant longleaf and properly manage it,” including prescribed burning. “It’s important to remember that we are not just planting longleaf seedlings and walking away from them. We are restoring an ecosystem, one that is highly dependent on periodic fire to manipulate and shape its biotic composition.”


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