Thinning out Robins pines brings brighter future to other resources

An area on the south end of Robins Air Force Base is designated as a Longleaf pine reforestation site. A skidder drags downed trees to be loaded and picks up debris. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

An area on the south end of Robins Air Force Base is designated as a Longleaf pine reforestation site. A skidder drags downed trees to be loaded and picks up debris. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Tree crews spent several days thinning out Robins pine stands, which will create revenue to help manage the remaining trees and protect less common resources on base such as the Longleaf Pine Reforestation Site.

"It's partly about managing and monitoring the health of the forest here on base and partly about clearing areas for growth and development," said Bob Sargent, natural resources manager.

The majority of the trees thinned at the 16 pine stand sites on base were Loblolly pines. Once the Loblolly Pines are cut down and loaded on trucks, they will be turned into revenue that can help aid the base resources.

"The thinning allows remaining trees to grow faster and allows us to generate revenue," Mr. Sargent said.

He added the thinning of the pines also allows the remaining trees to have more sunlight and less competition for water and soil nutrients.

Along with helping the remaining trees prosper, the thinned trees provide income because they can be turned into paper, cardboard, mulch or even two-by-fours. Where the timber ends up is based on the size of the tree and the condition of the tree. Timber from Robins will be sent to three different kinds of mills: a pulp mill, a saw and chip mill and a saw timber mill, said Al Lewis of Lewis Timber Co. Inc., a subcontractor for the project.

He said those that are sent to the pulp mill will be turned into cardboard boxes and those sent to the chip and saw mill will be used to make smaller timber such as two-by-fours and the scraps will be chipped up and sent to paper mills to be made into paper products. Those sent to the saw and timber mill will be made into saw timbers such as two-by-fours and four-by-eights, he said.

"Basically, they will be made into all of your household building products," Mr. Lewis said.

The last time the Robins pine stands were thinned was 1999 and most of the trees were planted in the early 80s, which means the trees were in their teens during the first thinning. The trees were row thinned, which is when trees are originally planted in rows and the fifth row of pines is removed, along with any other pines in declining health, Mr. Sargent said.

However, the latest thinning was done to help eliminate any large pines or pines in poor health. Teams actually went through the wooded areas and spray painted all the trees that needed to be removed.

The pines at Robins will not be thinned again for about five years, when the pine stands will be clear cut, which will mean clearing all the pines at the stand.
After the areas are clear cut, the tree debris will be removed and the process will start over with the planting of more pines.

However, there are some wooded areas on base that are never thinned, such as areas that are wooded to provide protection to a certain environment like some of Robins wetlands where it also protects some of Robins rare plant life, Mr. Sargent said.
Most of these areas are planted through a process called broadcast seeding which is when seeds are just spread across a landscape instead of being planted in rows.
Some of the proceeds from the logging will help plant other pines in the future and some of the revenue from the logging goes to help a fellow pine species, the Longleaf Pine. Mr. Sargent said the Longleaf Pine was once a very common forest type, but has dwindled over the years.

"When you see these communities disappearing it is worrisome, because there are a whole host of other species that are dependent on the community," Mr. Sargent said.

Longleaf Pines provide a rare ecosystem that is home to some rare and endangered species such as the Indigo Snake, Gopher Tortoise and Red-Cokaded Woodpecker.
Though thinning is used to help maintain the Loblolly pine stands, the Longleaf Pines thrive on natural and prescribed burns to help eliminate the competition of other specimens in their community. The Longleaf Pine Reforestation site allows the base to maintain the significant natural community and uses prescribed burns to help them thrive. The site has not been burned for about three years and Mr. Sargent said the next burn is probably two or three years away, which a long break between burns.

"We want the younger ones to get more height on them before we run a fire through here," Mr. Sargent said.

Mr. Sargent said it is important to preserve the Longleaf Pines because they offer a home to many plants and animals that would not be comfortable in the other pine stands on base.