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July 10, 2019

Longleaf pine, often described as majestic and diverse, once dominated the landscape across the southeast. In its heyday, longleaf covered nearly 90 million acres of land, stretching from southern Virginia to East Texas. Today, less than three million acres are grown nationwide. For Betty Lou Young of Winn Parish, the beauty of longleaf pine that she remembered as a child was never far away from her thoughts. Betty Lou and her late husband, Nelson, shared a dream, a vision of planting a legacy of longleaf for future generations.
 “I’m a tree hugger,” laughed Betty Lou, as her face beamed with pride. She recalled, “I remember when I was growing up, I thought longleaf pine was just beautiful.” When Betty Lou and Nelson discussed what to do with the land they inherited from Nelson’s family, they imagined planting longleaf. After some discussion, they had questions. Will longleaf grow well in Winn Parish? If they could grow, how would they go about keeping them healthy? So, the Youngs set out on a fact-finding mission that included researching everything relating to longleaf.
 During that process Nelson read an article that mentioned the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Soon after, they reached out to the Dugdemona Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office in Winnfield and met Glenn Austin, district conservationist for NRCS in Natchitoches and Winn Parishes. “We wanted to know everything we could about longleaf and how we could make our dream become a reality,” said Young.
 Through their research they realized one of the characteristics of longleaf is that they don’t typically grow as fast as other species of pines. “But, we both agreed, planting longleaf would be an investment for our children.” Betty Lou explains, “We knew that the return on our investment might not fully be realized in our lifetime but, we agreed that our children and grandchildren would benefit. These trees will be a resource to help pay for college for our grandchildren, Harper Lou and Georgia Mae Luster, and great-grandchildren, Penelope and Ellie Butler, and that is what we wanted,” said Young.
 In fact, the Youngs’ two youngest granddaughters love to play and explore the longleaf habitat. “They take pictures out by the trees and say, ‘This is our education!’ Ms. Betty Lou couldn’t agree more, “You bet this is your education fund growing, right here!”
 With technical and financial assistance from NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Youngs planted longleaf on their 80 acres. Glenn Austin explains, “We developed a conservation plan that included planting native grasses, along with an outline for management of the longleaf ecosystem, including prescribed burning and eventually when the trees get tall enough, thinning,” explained Austin. Working together with the National Wild Turkey Federation, Austin made sure the plan was strategic to enhance wildlife. “We see all types of song birds, turkeys, and deer,” smiled Betty Lou.
 Austin goes on to say, “The Youngs have followed their conservation plan ‘to a T’ everything we wrote, they have completed.” And the proof is the growth of the longleaf trees, at five years old, many of the trees are well over 15 feet tall. “We planted these in January and February and then did a herbaceous spray in May and they just exploded with growth,” Austin explained.
 Betty Lou looks out over her land and resounds, “It is just beautiful, I know that Nelson would be so proud.” The landscape has changed over the last five years but, the love of wildlife and longleaf has only grown. “Nelson and I had a vision of what this land could be and five years later, with the help of the SWCD and NRCS we are well on our way,” explained Betty Lou.
 For more information about NRCS visit one of the 44 USDA service centers located across the state to learn more.