US Forest Service hires contract crews from Idaho to plant longleaf pine seedlings in Louisiana's Kisatchie National Forest; silviculture technician highlights resistance to fire, says project aims to restore native plant population

ALEXANDRIA, Louisiana , December 15, 2013 () – Thousands of pines being planted in Kisatchie forest

The Kisatchie National Forest is getting new pine seedlings at a rate of more than 4,000 a day.

"Longleaf (pine) seedlings, historically, this is what was here," silviculture technician Ched Fontenot told The Town Talk (http://townta.lk/1bzNsER).Silviculture is the science of controlling the establishment and quality of forests and woodlands, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

While planting on Wednesday, Fontenot showed the seedlings, which appear to be tufts of grass with dirt "carrots" below them. The carrots are the roots packaged in moist native soil to limit mortality when the plants are introduced into new ground.

He planted a few in an area along Louisiana Highway 117 in Natchitoches Parish. It had been mostly cleared a few years ago for lumber. Many longleaf trees remain to provide seeds.

Fontenot used a tool called a dibble that quickly digs a carrot-sized hole for the plants. But contract crews from Idaho are doing the heavy lifting, planting 4,000 to 6,000 seedlings in a day, he said.

The Forest Service plants seedlings most years, he said. Now is the time to plant, as the cold weather helps a seedling adapt to a new habitat.

Restoring Kisatchie's the native plant population is part of the reason to use the species.

"It's very adaptive to fire," Fontenot said. That's important when prescriptive burns are necessary.

Seedlings planted now will probably endure their first fire in about three years, he said, and will remain in the grass or "tuft" stage until then.

The plants can remain tufts of grass for years until they begin growing vertically, district ranger Mike Dawson said.

"They stay in the tuft stage until the root decides it's time to make height growth," he said.

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com

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