News Release
Southeast Region


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Southeast Region Brings in a Longleaf Champion

April 10, 2012


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A man stands smiling in sunlight

Clay Ware. Photo: USFWS. View full.

Longleaf pine stands tall

Well-managed longleaf pine. Photo: Randy Browning, USFWS. View more sizes.

The first time the Southeast Region’s new Longleaf Pine Recovery Coordinator drove through the longleaf forest on a refuge in South Carolina, he was unimpressed.

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge is a premiere site for viewing remnants of the longleaf ecosystem, but for Clay Ware in 2002, it looked like a bunch of pine trees. In part, it was an observation by comparison: Clay had just completed his master’s thesis at North Carolina State on the best ways to regenerate the globally endangered Atlantic white cedar forest, the regal cypress trees that inhabit coastal swamps.

Then the longleaf worked its magic.

“I went from ‘Oh, it’s just pine,’ to ‘It’s really cool pine,’” said Clay.

Clay was the refuge’s forester from 2002 to 2006. He walked through much of the 38,000-acre longleaf pine forest, inventorying the trees, monitoring their health, coordinating prescribed burns, and assisting with recovery activities for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that lives primarily in longleaf pine trees.

When Clay left the refuge in 2006, it was to advance his career. But he always planned to come back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In anticipation of his return, he kept his nicest brown Service uniforms, the ones not stained with tree marking paint and longleaf pine sap.

After stints with the U.S. Army Environmental Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and as U.S. Forest Service Liaison to the Air Force in Texas, Clay is back with the Fish and Wildlife Service, working with longleaf pine. (The uniforms still fit.)

This time, Clay jumped at the chance to work in the longleaf ecosystem. He started his new job in late March, replacing Laurie Fenwood, who retired last year as the Southeast Region’s Longleaf Pine Recovery Coordinator. Clay’s office is in the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, but he’s hoping to go into the woods often.

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going,” Clay said of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, which set a 15-year goal to more than double the amount of longleaf from Virginia to Texas, to 8 million acres. The Fish and Wildlife Service is a major partner in the effort, investing about $10 million a year on restoration of the longleaf and recovery efforts for the threatened and endangered species that depend on the ecosystem.

“I see myself as a champion for longleaf restoration,” Clay said. “I need to be an advocate for longleaf, and I want to motivate people to keep their interest level high.”

Restoring longleaf on public land is the easy part, he said. “We need to reach out to the private landowners and provide incentives for them to plant longleaf and properly manage it,” including prescribed burning. “It’s important to remember that we are not just planting longleaf seedlings and walking away from them. We are restoring an ecosystem, one that is highly dependent on periodic fire to manipulate and shape its biotic composition.”


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The Ware File

Clay Ware grew up in Meridian, MS where he fell in love with the outdoors in a forested 20-acre, unmarked graveyard that bordered his urban neighborhood. He and his buddies built forts and tree houses, dammed up the creek, fished, and hunted the limited wildlife that was present.  Squirrels, rabbits, and birds were fair game.

“We were kids with pellet guns and little knowledge of hunting regulations. We weren’t very selective on what we would shoot at,” Clay acknowledged uneasily, “but we weren’t very accurate shooters, either.”

Clay started working after high school, first in a print shop and later as a pre-press specialist and supervisor for The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, TN. At 33, he went back to school to pursue his childhood passion. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University with a degree in forestry. Impressively, he made the A’s while working up to 20 hours a week as a forestry technician on various research projects.

After graduation, Clay worked for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, providing technical forestry assistance to private landowners. After a year, he left for the master’s program at North Carolina State.

While with the Army’s Environmental Command, Clay assisted the Wounded Warriors Program by setting up special hunting opportunities for wounded soldiers on Army installations. While he was with the Forest Service, Clay was stationed at Air Force Center for Engineering and Environment at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, providing guidance in the management of forestry, agricultural and recreational resources for Air Force installations nationwide. In this position, he also arranged for Forest Service detailers to assist Air Force installations with a wide variety of natural resource projects. 

The Liaison position also provided Clay with the opportunity to return to working with longleaf pine. Last October, he coordinated the annual Department of Defense Forestry Workshop at Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida. This three-day Workshop focused almost exclusively on the longleaf pine ecosystem and the benefits of prescribed fire.

Clay also worked with partners such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and The Nature Conservancy, vigorously seeking and obtaining funding and support for longleaf pine restoration and prescribed burning.  He arranged for firefighters to apply prescribed fire in longleaf forests at places such as Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases, and whenever possible, he put on the nomex and grabbed a drip torch to help burn.

Because that’s what champions do.

Last updated: April 10, 2012