by Carlton Ward Jr. | August 28, 2017

Florida Wild: Longleaf Pine Forests

Whispers at dawn

Longleaf pine forests are among the Earth’s most biologically diverse habitats. Once covering 90 million acres of the southeastern United States, from Virginia to Texas, longleaf pine forests have been reduced by logging and development to just three percent of their historic range. Conservationists are working to restore longleaf forests and savannas for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Longleaf pine forests. Photography Carlton Ward Jr.

This photo shows a restoration site at The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve, which is adjacent to the first parcel of Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge.

A few years ago, I was working on a story about the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered bird that depends on longleaf pines at least 60 years old to make nest cavities. Efforts to protect and restore old pines helped the woodpecker recover from the brink of extinction. To show the scope of the restored forest, I chose an aerial perspective. When the helicopter rose above the treetops, morning fog was still hanging low among the branches. As I aimed my camera east, the natural backlighting of the winter sunrise helped create the tapestry of light and shadows that adds a touch of wildness and mystery to this scene.