WAVERLY, Va. — Nov. 21, 2019 — On a recent chilly November morning, a group of Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) volunteers set out across the 2,700-acre Piney Grove Preserve forest to plant more than 600 longleaf pine seedlings within a four-hour period. Armed with tree-planting bars, more commonly known as dibble bars, VNG volunteers paired up with conservationists from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help restore the longleaf pines in the preserve and bring back the once majestic forest.
For centuries, the longleaf pine was perhaps the most common forest tree species throughout Southeast Virginia. It was also home to wildlife that depended on the forest for its habitat, such as the now endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
But what once was abundant has, for all practical purposes, been eliminated with fewer than 200 mature, native longleaf pine trees known to exist in the state.
It will be a long recovery, but with the help of Virginia Natural Gas and its parent, Southern Company, the effort is underway to help restore the trees from extinction and provide much-needed habitat.
For the past 16 years, Southern Company has been committed to helping restore the once prolific iconic longleaf pine forests. This summer, along with other public and private organizations, the company contributed to $6.3 million in grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests in nine Southeast states, including forests in VNG’s service territory.
VNG also made a $15,000 donation this fall through the Southern Company Gas Foundation to help kick-start an educational program at Tidewater Community College that will teach firefighters the proper way to conduct controlled burns. The longleaf pine is a fire-adapted species that depends on controlled burns to reveal bare mineral soil, stimulate seed germination and reduce competition from faster-growing tree species.
“Virginia Natural Gas prides itself on our involvement to create a positive impact on our region’s environment,” said Jim Kibler, president of Virginia Natural Gas. “We have a long history of environmental stewardship and we support projects that strengthen the restoration efforts of the longleaf pine in Southeast Virginia and the native wildlife it supports.”
Nearly two years ago, the company, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Beach Department of Parks & Recreation, planted more than 150 longleaf pine trees in two city parks within the company’s service territory. The year prior, employees planted six trees behind the VNG corporate office.
“This effort requires a huge commitment of time and resources,” said Bobby Clontz, Land Steward for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia. “It’s important to work in collaboration with our community, corporate and agency partners dedicated to preserving this important piece of our ecological system here in Southeast Virginia.”
According to Clontz, a lot has been accomplished to rebuild Virginia’s longleaf pine forests, but there is still much more to do. Public support, he said, is the key.
“One of the reasons we have been so successful in restoring the longleaf pine forests is because of the strong ties we have with our community partners like Virginia Natural Gas,” said Clontz. “The ecosystem is beginning to spring back to life, and people are taking notice.”
The seedlings planted by the volunteers will put down massive root systems and have lush, thick needles to help them survive fire events. Depending on the habitat, the growth rate is slow, and the seedlings could be a foot tall in 5-6 years. After 30 years, they could be as tall as 20 feet, eventually growing up to 100 feet and surviving 300 years in the right conditions.
About Virginia Natural Gas
Virginia Natural Gas is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Virginia Natural Gas provides natural gas service to nearly 300,000 customers in southeast Virginia and has been recognized as one of the safest, most reliable and customer-focused natural gas service providers. Consistently ranked in the top quartile for customer satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates, the company has also been recognized by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Oil and Gas Association for its safety, community outreach and educational programs, and was named Local Distribution Company for three consecutive years. Virginia Natural Gas has been ranked by its business customers as being one of the most Trusted Business Partners in the utility industry according to Cogent Reports, and as one of the Top Workplaces in Hampton Roads by Inside Business. For more information, visit virginianaturalgas.com and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Southern Company Gas
Southern Company Gas is a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE:SO), America’s premier energy company. Southern Company Gas serves approximately 4.2 million natural gas utility customers through its regulated distribution companies in four states and approximately 700,000 retail customers through its companies that market natural gas. Other nonutility businesses include investments in interstate pipelines, asset management for natural gas wholesale customers and ownership and operation of natural gas storage facilities. For more information, visit southerncompanygas.com.
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