Evaluating Climate Change Planning for Longleaf Pine Ecosystems in the Southeast United States

Longleaf pine (LLP, Pinus palustris) has been reduced to 3-5% of its original range, but may be particularly resilient to conditions associated with climate change including drought, severe storms, and increased prevalence of pests. Despite the critical role of LLP in building climate resilient ecosystems, little is known about how landscape managers in the region have considered climate change in planning efforts. We gathered 83 publicly accessible natural resource management plans from the southeastern United States that included management of LLP ecosystems between 1999 and 2016. We used document analysis to identify how plans addressed climate change threats on LLP, considered climate change in identification of LLP ecosystems, and linked climate change to planned conservation actions for LLP ecosystems. Newer plans and plans from state agencies tended to include greater consideration of climate change than older plans, federal plans, and those developed by nongovernmental organizations (NGO) or Joint Venture partnerships. Additionally, state wildlife action plans and forest action plans tended to score higher than other types of plans, such as plans from the Department of Defense, U.S. Forest Service, and NGOs. Considering climate vulnerability in planning efforts of LLP ecosystems is an opportunity because LLP represents a hopeful context for conserving vulnerable wildlife species as ecosystems adapt and evolve. Limited consideration of climate change as a criterion for identifying or evaluating LLP ecosystems by agencies may result from climate discourse focusing on ecosystems most vulnerable, versus resilient to, climate change. A stronger focus on climate change in longleaf pine community restoration may help forest managers promote sustainable forests and more hopeful conservation planning in the Southeast United States.

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