In an ecosystem that needs fire to flourish, the actions of the tribe could decide the future of the longleaf pine. Article from the Texas Observer – May 24, 2021

Ona Wednesday in March, a cool, northerly breeze rustled through the pines. It was a good day for a fire. Gesse Bullock, a 16-year woodlands firefighter and burn boss for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, had prepared for weeks to run a controlled burn on 250 acres of forest just outside the town of Livingston, home to some of the last remaining longleaf pine trees in the state. 

Until recently, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas rarely did prescribed burns, because they weren’t legally allowed to, despite hundreds of years of managing the land. Doing prescribed burns requires a tribe to have wildland firefighters and the proper certifications from the state and federal government. It wasn’t until Bullock was hired that the tribe began to establish their land management program. “Historically, our woods used to be open and you could walk through it without getting eaten by the brush,” Bullock says.

Neither the county nor the state provide resources or firefighters to assist the tribe, but Bullock says that’s OK; his team of four gets support from other wildland firefighters provided by The Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Longleaf [pine] needs a lot of maintenance and is a very fire-tolerant, fire-dependent species,” Bullock says. 

The Alabama-Coushatta have always used fire as a tool to maintain their lands and forests. Without it, the longleaf pine can be choked out by competing underbrush. For the tribe, who have long relied on, and revered, the longleaf pine, using its needles in medicine and weaving intricate baskets, preservation is critical. Currently, the tribe is working to preserve the forest and grow additional trees on 400 acres of tribal land. In an ecosystem that needs fire much like the Amazon rainforest needs rain, the actions of the tribe could decide the future of the longleaf pine.