Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leon Neel and a personal history of managing longleaf pine grasslands

THE ART OF MANAGING LONGLEAF, an account of the life and work of the remarkable forester Leon Neel as told to environmental historians Paul Sutter and Albert Way, has just released from the University of Georgia Press.

“You do not have to spend much time with Leon Neel in the longleaf woodlands that he has managed to learn that they are filled not only with ecological diversity and a potentially sustainable supply of timber but also with stories,” write Sutter and Way in their introduction to the book. “After several years of working with Leon on this project, we are now convinced that those stories are in fact part and parcel of his ecological management approach. Leon has taught us many things, but one of the most important is that if you do not have stories to tell about the lands you work and love, how can you hope to protect them? This book, then, is about the history and tenets of Leon Neel’s approach to land management and the stories that inform it.”

Much of Neel’s recounting focuses on Greenwood Plantation in the Red Hills of south Georgia, which includes a thousand-acre, old-growth, multiage stand of trees known as the Big Woods. Some of the tall, stately trees are more than four hundred years old, and below them is a diverse mix of native grasses and shrubs. Sutter and Way call the Big Woods of Greenwood “arguably the most remarkable stand of longleaf pine grassland remaining in the southern coastal plain,” a region that once included millions of acres of longleaf forest.

Neel, and his mentor Herbert Stoddard before him, managed the Big Woods as a show place for an ecological approach to forestry practice that they pioneered, now known as the Stoddard-Neel approach. Often described as an art informed by science, this set of principles for forest management has been applied to substantial parts of the remnant longleaf woodlands across the coastal plain. It achieves sustainable management of the longleaf pine ecosystem through a combination of prescribed burning, selective logging, and an intimate knowledge of the ecosystem and its processes. This past fall, the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of Georgia presented Neel with the 2009 Distinguished Alumnus award for his lifetime of contribution to innovations in conservation and forest management.

Leon Neel, joined by Paul Sutter and Albert Way will speak about THE ART OF MANAGING LONGLEAF in an event at the Thomas County Historical Society in Thomasville, Georgia on Sunday, February 28 at 3:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.