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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Pine trees are one of the most important crops in the southeastern U.S., and a consortium led by University of Florida personnel has been awarded a five-year, $20 million federal grant to help landowners and foresters throughout the region adapt to and mitigate global climate change in coming decades.
The award was announced Friday, Feb. 18 in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It was one of three awards funded by the institute as part of a program to encourage agriculture and forestry to increase their capacity to provide what’s called carbon sequestration—the practice of producing and storing durable materials that contain carbon, to slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Besides UF, the consortium includes 10 southeastern land-grant universities, eight forestry research cooperatives, the U.S. Forest Service, state climate offices and the multistate Southeast Climate Consortium.
The grant is one of the largest ever associated with UF, said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“This is a tremendous achievement for all of the collaborators, and demonstrates the wisdom of taking a team approach to big challenges,” Payne said. “People throughout the Southeast should be proud that this team has attracted $20 million to improve the planted-pine industry, one of our region’s premier economic engines.”
The grant will fund efforts to develop and transfer better management practices for southern pine, notably loblolly pine, which accounts for 80 percent of planted forest in the Southeast.
Loblolly pine grows naturally from Maryland to Texas, giving it great potential for carbon sequestration, said tree physiologist Tim Martin, a professor with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation who led efforts to obtain the grant.
“There hasn’t been much focus on climate change by forest managers and landowners, partly because little information is available on the best way forward to prepare for those changes,” Martin said. “This project provides an unprecedented opportunity to integrate forestry research, outreach and education in the region, to address this important societal challenge.”
Changes brought about by climate change could include reduced summer rainfall, higher temperatures and increased disease and pest pressures, Martin said. Much of the work funded by the grant will focus on development of improved trees and management strategies.
The grant will also support extensive measurements on field experiments already under way across the region, to determine how soils, climate and management influence the loblolly’s carbon-sequestration potential.
Researchers will try to make trees grow faster and larger, he said. They’ll also investigate ways to keep trees healthy and use fertilizer more efficiently.
Martin is the project director and one of four people overseeing efforts to integrate the project’s main divisions.
Gary Peter, an associate professor with the UF forestry school, will integrate efforts to help the industry and small landowners adapt to changing climate conditions and improve the resilience of southern forests.
Martha Monroe, a professor with the forestry school, will integrate outreach and education. “This project is possible because of the land-grant system,” Monroe said. “We do basic research, applied research and outreach. Our collective reach to private industry, forest consultants, minority forest landowners, teachers, planners and policymakers is significant.”
Tom Fox, a professor with Virginia Tech’s forest resources and environmental conservation department, is the project’s integrator for mitigation efforts. “This project will help maintain forests that are better able to withstand the droughts, intense storms and pests that are associated with climate variability,” Fox said.
Martin credited UF’s history of support for climate-change initiatives, such as the Florida Climate Institute, as an important factor in securing the grant.
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From left, University of Florida forestry experts Tim Martin, Gary Peter and Martha Monroe pose in a stand of loblolly pine trees in the Austin Cary Memorial Forest near Gainesville — Friday, Feb. 4, 2011. The trio, faculty members with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, are among the leaders of a consortium that was awarded a five-year, $20 million grant to improve pine forest management in the Southeastern U.S. The grant, announced Friday, Feb. 18, is aimed at helping landowners and foresters adapt to and mitigate global climate change. University of Florida/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones.