Kent Evans Interview
Kent Evans Interview Transcripts
Kent Evans Interview 1:
The Texas Longleaf Implementation Team, “TLIT”, originated from the Texas Longleaf Task Force. Back in 2009, there were a couple of us that got together – me with the U.S. Forest Service and Jan Davis with the Texas Forest Service. We tried to think of a way to bring together all those people that were interested in doing Longleaf management in East Texas. There were quite a few groups already involved, such as the NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I had just transferred back home to Texas from Alabama and I wanted to meet the Texas partners. So my request to the Texas Forest Service was that we get them all together in one room and just kind of compare notes and do a “status check” with each other.
Fall of 2009, Jan and I called a meeting and expected about 10-15 people, including Dr. Roel Lopez of the Texas A&M University Institute of Natural Resource. I think 35 showed up. There was a lot of energy and interest involved in restoring Longleaf to East Texas.
By 2013, we formed a leadership steering committee, “The Texas Longleaf Implementation Team”, developed a declaration of partnership, and in that partnership, we narrated our vision, goals, and our purposes. One of the things we hoped to do was help the private landowner restore Longleaf and the Longleaf ecosystem back on their private land.
There are 15 signatories in our TLIT Declaration of Partnership. These include the state agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and federal agencies (U.S. Forest Service, NRCS, NPS, U.S. FWS, industry groups Texas Forestry Association, Resource Management Service, and Campbell Global. We find resources to help private landowners and others restore Longleaf in a specific geography of East Texas.
We determined to get grant money so that we could help private landowners defray some of the costs of establishment, enhancement, and burning of their private land. We got a strategy together and pursued the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants available to help private landowners.
Our Texas Longleaf Implementation Team needs a willing agency in the group to serve as the applicant to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and to serve as the required fiduciary. The first grant received was submitted for us by The Nature Conservancy in 2013, and the group supported TNC to do this. TNC won the grant and served as our fiduciary. With that grant money, they hired a coordinator, which is me, and they got money to begin doing burning, enhancement, and establishing of Longleaf Pine on TNC properties and the adjacent Campbell Global property.
Kent Evans Interview 2:
Many of our partners realize the significance of having the native forest restored across the South. It’s a priority of management for the NRCS and for the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Partners, as well as many of the state agencies. So, within our team, it is a common thing to try to support our agency’s goals for restoration. Our agency representatives also have a personal passion to try to bring back that native system. It has been really fun to find a private landowner that thinks along those same lines. We have been able to meet several and assist them on their projects.
The importance of Longleaf restoration is widespread. Now, we’re here in East Texas on the extreme western end of the Longleaf range, but you find the same interests and passion and energy going on across all 9 former states from here to Florida and up to Virginia.
We think we are going to meet our goal of 8 million acres of Longleaf restored by 2025. At the end of 5 years, those 9 states had planned to have 5 million acres of Longleaf. Starting in 2009 (at 3 million acres) to 2017 (4.5 million acres), there was about a one and half million acre increase in Longleaf acreage in the South.
Kent Evans Interview 3:
One of the real privileges that I’ve enjoyed, as do my colleagues on the team, is finding a landowner that is actually providing leadership by example and willing to verbalize their passion for restoring the Longleaf Pine and fire ecosystem on their land.
An example of that is Mike Howard. I was on Mike’s land for the first time in 2010. I realized that from all my past experiences (I’ve worked in many states and across several hundred thousand acres), he was an example of a private citizen that is a great ambassador for restoring a native ecosystem. He used his own resources, his own energy, and he actually shouldered some of that risk. He took a chance to plant and burn Longleaf where it wasn’t really a widespread practice on private land in East Texas. It has been a real delight to work with Mike Howard.
In several places across the south, I have met citizens that, as they mature, they begin thinking about their legacy on the land. They are thinking about their family on the land. You hear that from Mike Howard and others as well. They are talking about their sons, their grandsons to be, and their granddaughters to be. I hear an excitement from them as they consider these kids love their land, their heritage, and I hear joy. Maybe they will see these sons and daughters grow up loving to hike, hunt, fish, and love the woods. That is really a kindred spirit to many of us that do natural resource management.
Kent Evans Interview 4:
When I worked with the U.S. Forest Service, I always worked near and around this cousin agency, the NRCS. It was nearby, and occasionally, we would cross paths. Now in retirement from the USFS, I became the coordinator for this team and really began to appreciate how valuable the NRCS farm bill assistance is to working on private land. In fact, I have thought that the single most significant federal employee out there on the landscape to a private land owner may be the NRCS District Conservationist. They can explain farm bill programs; in a way, they kind of sell a conservation program. Frequently, the DC is the connection between the private citizen and resource management. If the NRCS District Conservationist understands the Longleaf system, it really helps our cause to communicate it to the landowner.
Kent Evans Interview 5:
One of the landowners we have worked with is Mr. Trey Whitley. Trey was doing a web search one time about Longleaf in Texas, and he came across our website, www.txlongleaf.org. On that site, he found me, and he said, “Kent, I’m interested in getting some technical assistance and guidance on doing Longleaf restoration.” I have since learned he was not an average customer. He and his wife had multiple degrees in Environmental Engineering. Trey had an understanding and a passion for restoring ecosystems. Mr. Whitley knew something about all the government agencies out there, but he wanted a little guidance of who to talk to. So, as part of a coordinator of all these agencies, I set up the field visit, and I got the NRCS District Conservationist notified. In fact, we had the State Forester with NRCS and an industry forester with RMS so this landowner could understand the commercial Loblolly options that he had. We didn’t want to just drive him to Longleaf if he wanted to continue with his Loblolly plantations. I wanted him to hear other choices. We also provided a Fire Ecology Specialist, and he came on site, and Trey’s consultant forester was there as well as Trey’s prescribed burn contractor. We had quite a group. We looked at his land, we talked it over, and we were able to give him a lot of information and let that landowner set his own objectives for the restoration work that he wanted to do.
Kent Evans Interview 6:
Amanda Haralson has been real interested in restoring her land to Longleaf Pine. She realized that she had land within the historic footprint of Longleaf in East Texas, and she had a deep love for the land and a real interest in knowing how to bring it back. She also wanted to have the herbaceous understory that might have been on that site as well as try to get some Longleaf back into her canopy. So, she called us, actually through the Longleaf Alliance in Alabama. She called them and asked, “Well, who could help me in Texas?” I’m connected as well to the Longleaf Alliance so they called me up and gave me her name and phone number, and with that, we put together another field trip which included the NRCS District Conservationist, and on site, he brought the NRCS State Forester. We included TPWD, Campbell Global, International Paper, Texas Forest Service, and The Nature Conservancy from our team. We were able to give her expertise in wildlife and forestry, prescribed burning, ecological principles, and spent a long day walking over her land and looking at some of her challenges.
Kent Evans Interview 7:
Robin and Lloyd Gillespie asked for assistance from our group. I was able to connect them with the Texas A&M Forest Service to prepare for them a forest stewardship plan. The Gillespies wanted help. They hadn’t mapped their forest stands. The Texas Forest Service came out and just did an outstanding job. As one of their services, they come on the land, meet the landowner, and develop a forest stewardship plan. That becomes a base line management document, and then with that plan, they can talk to NRCS or FSA or others about other assistance that might be available to them.
Kent Evans Interview 8:
Rufus Duncan is a neighbor to the Gillespies and is one of those owners of the Scrappin’ Valley property. Mr. Duncan has a deep family history of land management in East Texas, and he has a passion for doing conservation work. He also has a series of really interesting wildlife challenges on his property. The Duncan family property has the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It’s a federally listed species, and he has been working regularly with Texas A&M Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Donna Work. Donna explained how the Safe Harbor Program works and how a private landowner can look at managing their land over time without being encumbered by the presence of this listed species. Donna is an example of a person with Texas A&M Forest Service that provides great service to the public and can provide answers, just a phone call away. We encourage these landowners that don’t know all the sources of information who to call and how to get answers.
Kent Evans Interview 9:
There are many beneficiaries of restoring the Longleaf Pine ecosystem in East Texas. Some benefits are easy to point wildlife benefits when you open up the under story in a forested environment and you keep it burned. There is plenty of sunlight which provides a diverse herbaceous community. Many critters seek out and prefer habitats with a diverse herbaceous community, such as songbirds, turkey, quail, and Bachman's Sparrows. Longleaf stands that are burned periodically benefit communities, not just wildlife populations. You can consider it an ecological service provided by the land. For instance, a healthy forest delivers clean water in the streams and clean streams lead into municipal water plants. Clean intake water is easier and cheaper to treat than a stream that is not clean.
Kent Evans Interview 10:
With the U.S. Forest Service, I worked in fire management for 33 years. My involvement with their fire program started as a rake-dragging grunt. I learned about prescribed burning from experienced people around me and from many training courses, eventually becoming a prescribed burning boss. I also worked in wildfire management serving many roles including an incident commander. Being around fire in many states and circumstances, you see how unmanaged fire can run into a community and change lives. When I got into the business of Longleaf management, it was easy to explain to the public how important it is to keep a healthy forest thinned and burned. When you do regular burning in a forested environment, you can change the composition of the fuel and the amount of fuel in the forest. It is better to create a light flashy fuel in your forest, such as grass, and remove those highly volatile woody fuels such as Yaupon. Let’s just talk about Yaupon for a minute. When Yaupon is heated up in a fire, it begins to give off volatile oils. These oils are very flammable and create a difficult to control fuel. If you never do a prescribed burn in a Loblolly plantation, it will develop a thick, highly volatile mid-story of yaupon and pine straw. If that plantation is draped with pine needles and a fire starts, it is difficult to control. That can be a dangerous running plantation fire. That is a situation where we sometimes had to tell firefighters “Don’t go in there.” Don’t try to stop a fire that has got mid-story in Loblolly plantation with a stiff wind. So, a landowner can expect, if they get a fire that is rolling through a Yaupon thick, needle-draped, unburned, un-thinned Loblolly plantation, that the troops aren’t going to go in there and try and save your forest.
My effort, a lot of times when I’m talking about Longleaf and the benefits of Longleaf forest, is to show the connection to clean water, etc. A healthy forest can deliver clean water into the aquifer and streams. Professional foresters can help try to establish the forest cover that was the historical native forest on your soil type. Develop a healthy forest stand with thinning and use prescribed fire to help fireproof your timber stand. If you choose Longleaf, burn it at 18 month to three-year intervals. Burning will knock down yaupon or other mid-story competition and favor a grassy understory. Know that if you get a wildfire in an unburned Loblolly stand, it might kill your stand. If a wildfire hits a thinned and burned Longleaf stand with a grassy understory, then it has a very high probability of survival.
Kent Evans Interview 11:
Prescribed fire is a safe tool to use in forest management. It is also a very low cost tool when comparing it to a mechanical treatment or an herbicide treatment. Prescribed fire, when it is done appropriately, can be done is a very safe manner. Our team can provide training and technical coaching, skills needed for landowners that want to burn their own land. This training also helps a landowner communicate their expectations and objectives to a commercial burner when hiring them to burn their land. Prescribed burns done by trained and competent fire teams are set with the appropriate wind, appropriate humidity, and appropriate fuel moisture. Those burns are extremely controllable. In East Texas, the percentage of controlled burns that ever escape is miniscule. The damage that is done in escaped prescribed fire is a very low statistic compared to what happens with an unplanned ignition. See the smoke from a controlled burn as a welcome component to becoming a healthier forest.