Interview With The New Chair for the Longleaf Partnership Council

Interview With The New Chair for the Longleaf Partnership Council

The America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (ALRI) would like to welcome a new chair for the Longleaf Partnership Council (LPC) – Dr. Jim Guldin of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station!  The longleaf community is fortunate to have Dr. Guldin with his wealth of experience and research in southern pine forests.  There is great potential for longleaf over the next two years of his tenure, and we are confident in Dr. Guldin’s experience and skills to keep efforts moving towards the many goals and objectives of ALRI.

Dr. Guldin is known around the world for his research and application of uneven-aged silviculture in southern pines.  His most recent research is in silvicultural restoration of southern pines to promote red-cockaded woodpecker recovery and how the practice of silviculture must adapt to changing climatic conditions. 

The ALRI Communications Team recently caught up with Dr. Guldin to hear more about his goals and interests.

Questions: 

1. What made you interested in longleaf?

Professional curiosity, and an assist from a colleague! My first job after my PhD was in 1982, when I joined the faculty to teach silviculture in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. I struck up a friendship with Dr. Bob Farrar, who worked for the US Forest Service research unit that was (and still is) co-located with the University. Bob was assigned there to work on quantitative aspects of uneven-aged silviculture of loblolly-shortleaf pines at the Crossett Experimental Forest in south Arkansas.  But Bob’s first love was longleaf pine. His career prior to Monticello had been spent on the Escambia Experimental Forest in Brewton, Alabama, working on growth and yield on naturally-regenerated longleaf pine.

Well, Bob and I got on both professionally and personally in ways that are difficult to describe, but early on, he decided that he needed to intervene in my Southern forestry education. His first words to me were these:  “If you are gonna teach silviculture at a southern forestry school, you dadgum better learn something about longleaf pine!” And he was right.

Bob carried me down to the Escambia EF in the spring of 1982, and I had the full Southern Baptist whole-body immersion in longleaf pine silviculture, with Bob as the Preacher. It changed my professional life. I wish I’d have recorded the long and detailed conversations we had on that trip about the Croker shelterwood studies, the basal area-prescribed burn studies, and the start of the uneven-aged regulation studies. I still use digitized slides from that early trip in talks today. There have been about a half dozen genuine experts on the silviculture of longleaf pine, and Bob, who passed away a year ago, belongs on the top half of that list.  

2. What skills and expertise can you contribute to the longleaf community?

Well, I describe myself as an ‘alleged expert’ on the silviculture of naturally-regenerated southern pine stands generally, and especially for the theory and practice of classical approaches to uneven-aged silviculture in southern pines. The early part of my career was spent looking at silvicultural comparisons between even-aged and uneven-aged silvicultural systems in mixed loblolly-shortleaf pine stands at the Crossett EF. I’ve been Project Leader for that research since 1998. But my appointment in the spring of 2014 to also serve as Project Leader for the Southern Research Station’s longleaf pine research unit expanded my responsibilities to include the administration of the Station’s longleaf pine research program, and to conduct some silviculture research in longleaf pine on my own. I must be making some progress—I had my first longleaf pine manuscript rejected!

Readers might recall those personality tests in college that try to assign the test-taker as either an introvert or an extrovert.  Oddly, I do well in both categories. On one hand, I’m an archetypal “scientific nerd”, happy to spend a day alone buried in data or writing. An example of that for the LPC is the digging I’ve done in FIA data and other databases that shows we appear to be lagging behind in the rate of restoration we hoped to achieve under the ALRI.  On the other hand, my extroverted side drives my enthusiastic approach to silviculture. Short courses, workshops, field tours, and scientific presentations all come fairly easily to me. And in those venues, my enthusiasm for longleaf pine is pretty difficult to hide, as folks on the LPC can attest.

3. What makes the Longleaf Partnership Council unique, and how can partners work together to advance longleaf across the range?

I once heard some “alleged expert” describe longleaf pine ecosystems as being dominated by “charismatic macroflora”.  There’s something primal that rises in landowners, land managers, and the public when they experience longleaf pine ecosystems--whether chasing bobwhites over a pair of dogs, trying to add red-cockaded woodpeckers to a life list, hiking a fireline on a prescribed burn, walking on heart pine floors, starting a fire on a cold winter night with some fatwood splinters, or appreciating the tight grain of reclaimed heart pine lumber repurposed by lucky users for a second life. My good friend Rhett Johnson and our colleague Dean Gjerstad captured the love of longleaf pine across the South when they established the Longleaf Alliance, which has been and remains a key player in the advancement of ecology and management of the species.

But when the ALRI was conceived, a forum of experts and enthusiasts from all walks of what I sometimes call “longleaf world” was needed to advance the restoration of the ecosystem on lands that they could directly influence. The LPC offered a seat at an important table for experts in four different kinds of organizations.  First, land managers with forest industry and forestry consulting firms bring a strong interest for managing longleaf pine for a diversity of uses, which unapologetically include making a profit by selling longleaf pine timber especially in markets where longleaf pine is highly sought such as high-quality high-strength dimension lumber and utility poles. State forestry and wildlife agencies, and Federal land managers with military installations, wildlife refuges, and national forests, remain a key repository for existing longleaf pine ecosystems. And other private ‘non-industrial’ forest landowners such as foundations and, especially, family forest landowners continue to be critical; private landowners bring a proud and strong conversation ethic to their ownerships. Finally, our non-governmental conservation organizations are huge in the way they can bring staff expertise to analysis and acquisition of significant tracts. So in my view, the LPC is the sum of all of these experts and enthusiasts who collectively embody that passion that we all feel for this ecosystem that once dominated nearly a quarter of the southern timberlands, and now is so underrepresented on the landscape.

 4. What goals do you hope ALRI can accomplish in 2017?

Well, we’ve got to get some traction on this question we unearthed a year ago, which is that our pace of restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems lags behind the goal of reaching 8 million acres by 2025. The longleaf pine community can be inordinately proud of the fact that in the past 4 years, on the order of 600,000 acres of new longleaf pine stands have been planted, and more than 2 million acres of longleaf pine has been burned under controlled conditions. These are fantastic accomplishments for which our LPC partners are proud to have made happen, and justifiably so.

But FIA data suggest a hole in the bucket—we’re still losing longleaf pine stands to conversion to other land uses or other forest types. And while it’s easy to figure out what has been done to add to our accomplishments, it’s hard to figure out what happens when it’s lost. We’re working with FIA to refine what that conversion out of longleaf pine might look like.

Then too, silviculturists like me suspect that there are more things we could do to restore longleaf pine by creatively managing existing stands rather than by clearcutting and planting. For example, a mid-rotation or older stand with a minor manageable component of longleaf pine could be converted to a stand dominated by longleaf fairly quickly: 1) retain all the longleaf pine, but cut the trees of other species, 2) follow up with any other treatments that might be needed to suppress any residual hardwood midstory, and 3) begin a cyclic prescribed burning program. The advantage to this tactic is that we could restore functional longleaf pine habitat values more rapidly and at less cost than we could by planting longleaf. LPC is trying to quantify what the added potential of managing stands with this ‘minor manageable longleaf component’ might be on not only National Forest lands but other Federal and state lands, and on private lands as well. We think it could be significant.

5. Now a question for fun - tell us something interesting about yourself?  Rumors tell us that you are a great fan of opera music?

Well first I have to thank my wife Melissa for putting up with me. We are closing in on 30 years of marriage, and have a son, Will, who is closing in on two years with his wife, Megan. The kids live in southern Missouri, where they bought 100 acres of land next to her family farm and have started their own life. Dadgum, I’m envious!

The music connection--I’m a lifelong avocational choral musician. I sang with men’s glee clubs and mixed voice choral groups through all my college years. Currently, I’m a stalwart in the bass section for the River City Men’s Chorus. I’ve done some solo work with area churches—the high point was performing the bass solos for the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah with accompaniment by the chamber orchestra of the Arkansas Symphony. So I may be one of the few LPC representatives who actually owns his own tuxedo.

My love of opera has an interesting background. In my 20s and 30s, I told myself, “Well, I’ve always thought this opera stuff might be interesting, but I’ll wait until I turn 40 years old, and then I’ll start to listen to opera.” The idea was to have an entirely new musical genre to experience as a milestone of life.  So when I turned 40, I dove in, and I concluded two things. One, opera is truly a glorious art form full of some of the best classical music there is. And two—what an idiot I was waiting half my life to enjoy it!

Finally, I like outdoor activities that involve chasing something while walking or paddling. The summer I moved to Arkansas, I started wet-wading rivers and creeks in the Ozarks and the Ouachitas, fishing for smallmouth bass.  I’ve kept a journal of that over the years, and son Will surprised me at Christmas a year ago with a bound copy entitled “Angling for Smallmouth—the Fishing Journal of Forester Jim Guldin”. Not a hot seller on Amazon, but it may be my favorite book! And, for the past decade, I’ve enjoyed bobwhite hunting over a friend’s Brittany spaniels in western Arkansas. We’ve been seeing some recovery in bobwhites is the fire-managed shortleaf pine systems in the Ouachitas especially. I’ve even hunted bobwhites over Rhett Johnson’s pointers at the Solon Dixon Center, which is really better described as a long leisurely walk while talking with Rhett and catching up to his dogs back at the truck. That may be the most personally rewarding part of my life in longleaf world-the many wonderful friends I've met, with whom I've shared hours of memorable conversations and unforgettable experiences.