During pre-settlement times, longleaf pine is believed to have covered up to 92 million acres in the southeastern United States. These forests provided, first turpentine and later lumber, which fueled the economy of many cities and towns of the Southeast. By the early 20th century most of the virgin forests were logged with little attempt to replant timbered lands. In later years, when planting was initiated to reclaim these lands, loblolly and slash pines were often selected for ease in planting and the belief that economic returns would be greater. By 1935, only about 35 million acres of longleaf pine remained, which was further reduced to 5 million acres by 1975. Estimates made in 1995 reduced this total to about 3 million acres.
While longleaf pine forests are generally confined to the Coastal Plain, they do extend into mountainous regions in one area of the Southeast-northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia. During the first half of the 20th century, scientists described these forests and commented on their decline and disappearance. In Georgia, a successional shift due to lack of fire left only relict trees by the 1940s. In Alabama, expansive longleaf pine forests were described from the Talladega Mountains and Choccolocco Mountain shortly after the turn of the century.
Most forests in the Talladega Mountains were harvested and eventually replanted in loblolly pine or allowed to develop scattered stands of second growth longleaf pine. Recently there has been increased interest and efforts in restoring these longleaf pine forests. Choccolocco Mountain, which is now part of the refuge, was purchased by the Army in 1917, and was actively used for military training until closure of the base in 1998.