- Associated Press - Monday, April 27, 2015

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - Some folks, they say, can’t see the forest because of the trees. While that might be a problem some places, it’s not in Kisatchie National Forest, where the trees are one of the biggest attractions.

Specifically, the longleaf pine. “The largest contiguous stand of longleaf pines anywhere that I know of is in Vernon Parish in the Kisatchie National Forest,” said Jim Caldwell, the public affairs officer for Kisatchie National Forest.

The significance of preserving the longleaf pine tree is one of the factors that lead to creation of the Kisatchie National Forest in 1930. Covering 604,000 acres spread across seven parishes, the current Kisatchie National Forest offers a glimpse back in time.

“When you look at the forests explorers like de Soto and Lewis and Clark described, they talk about very open areas that were easy to walk through,” Caldwell said. “What they saw were longleaf pines and blue stemmed grass that was very open and very beautiful.” And that’s what foresters have recreated in Kisatchie.

That’s one reason Kisatchie National Forest was selected to represent Louisiana on the state’s coin in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. A design featuring a wild turkey in flight against a background of longleaf pines and blue stem grass is on the reverse, or tails side, of the new quarter, which was released at a public ceremony April 22 at the Alexandria Riverfront Center. There are a total of 56 coins in the series, and Kisatchie is one of only five national forests to be honored.

While the name Kisatchie is found going back to the earliest documents for Louisiana, the origins and meaning of the name are not clear. In a history of the forest penned in 1981 by Anna C. Burns, she explains the name is believed to come from a Choctaw Indian linguistic group, meaning “long cane.” Caldwell agreed that was his understanding as well. “We don’t know if they were referring to river cane, or to longleaf pine. It’s all kind of blurry to me,” he said.

Native Americans settled the forest lands for centuries until settlers began their move westward. By the 1920s, loggers were actively harvesting the virgin longleaf timber. Caroline Dorman, a school teacher for whom an elementary school in Woodworth is named, was concerned that the trees would vanish without protection and lobbied hard for the preservation of the last remaining stand of virgin longleaf pine, Burns noted. She was unsuccessful in that effort, however Dorman persevered, pushing the Forestry Service and government officials to purchase land for a national forest. According to Forest Service records, on May 17, 1930, purchase of the land was approved, and on June 10, 1930, the Secretary of Agriculture officially designated the lands in the Catahoula and Kisatchie purchase units as the Kisatchie National Forest. Additional land was added to the forest over the next five years.

Since that time, Forest Service personnel have worked to preserve and protect the forest. Those efforts include aggressive management of the timber and the wildlife that call the forest home.

Caldwell explained foresters use a number of methods to ensure the long-term survival of the forest. Part of that includes regular timber sales to thin tree stands, reforestation efforts, and conducting regular controlled burns to thin out underbrush. Caldwell noted that roughly 100,000 acres are burned each year. The result is a more open forest where trees and wildlife can thrive.

The controlled burns are especially helpful to the longleaf pine, Caldwell said. “It’s a fire plant,” Caldwell said. Fire helps thin underbrush and removes competing hardwoods and other species of pines. “The longleaf pine can withstand the fire while the other species can’t.”

Looking ahead, Caldwell is excited about the forest’s future. He notes the ongoing forest management program, as well as a current project to band and track wild turkeys. Each of those programs has the same objective of maintaining the forest and keeping it as natural as possible.

“A national forest should be a natural looking area with natural systems in place,” Caldwell said. “That’s what we have with Kisatchie National Forest, and I believe that’s why the plants and animals there thrive - they have everything they need.”


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

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