Texas. Historic Accounts Tell Of Travelers Passing Through Mile After Mile Of The Flat “Piney Woods.” Old Photographs Show What Looks Like A Monoculture Of Sturdy Pine Trunks Rising From An Open, Grassy Forest Floor. In Each Photo A Single Human, Posed Among The Trunks For Scale, Occupies Less Than One-Sixth Of The Vertical Height Of The Photo, But Not One Horizontal Branch Is Seen; The Wind-Blown Limbs Are Still Far Overhead, Out Of The Frame. The Pines Were A Timber Seller’S Dream: No Steep Slopes, No Shrubby Undergrowth, A Gentle Climate. It Was Almost Too Easy. Ninety-Eight Percent Of The Longleaf Pine Forests Were Harvested.
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The Forests In Those Photographs Are Gone. The Only Way To See Even A Poor Imitation Of Those Remarkable Forests Is To Be A Quail Hunter Invited To One Of The Few Privately Owned Plantations Where Some Old-Growth Longleaf Still Exists, Or To Be A Researcher With Access To One Of The Military Bases Or Research Stations Where The Longleaf Pine Groves Are On Life Support. There Is Nowhere The General Public Can Go To See Anything Like The Forests In The Photographs. The Pines I Was Sitting Among This Day Were Old, But They Occupy Just A Small Area Within A Larger Landscape That Includes Mostly Flood- Plain Deciduous Forest.
The Story Of This Forest, And How It Still Exists For Us To Experience, Echoes The Story Of So Many Other Old-Growth Forests. The Stories Almost Always Start With The Native People Being Driven Out And White Settlers Moving In. In This Case, The Creek Indians Were Driven Out And A Lottery System Was Established To Distribute Their Land To The Settlers. The Moody Family Ended Up With More Than Three Thousand Acres Along The Altamaha River, And From Then On It Was Just A Matter Of Trying To Hold On To What They Had. The Moodys Lived Simply, In Hand-Built Wooden Cabins With No Plumbing And Only Wood Stoves For Heat. They Did Whatever They Had To Do To Make A Living Off Their Land: Raised A Few Cows, Planted A Few Fields, Made Some Moonshine, Hunted Squirrels, Tapped A Few Trees For Turpentine. But Cutting Any Timber Was A Last Resort. Three Generations Kept The Same Promise To Protect The Forest As Best They Could, But They Were Not Always Successful. Some Timber Had To Be Cut, Mostly To Pay Estate Taxes Owed On The Now Valuable Riverfront Property When Someone Died. When The Last Member Of The Third Generation Died In 1999, Without A Will And Without Having Made Any Plans For What Would Happen To The Forest, The Property Passed To Thirty Distant Heirs Mostly Half-Nieces And -Nephews. The Moody Family’S Legacy Of Forest Protection Ended When The Heirs Agreed To Sell The Property At Auction.
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