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Ecological Priorities

A tapestry of expansive forests, agriculture lands, rural towns, and burgeoning cities come together in Appalachia. Innumerable and unique geologic features are on display here; from scenic vistas that overlook forests to tall 'spines' with corresponding deep valleys; from rolling hills to the highest peaks east of the Mississippi. The diverse habitats and unique features provide a haven for plants and animals and a respite for millions of people. The AMJV is focused on preserving, managing, and restoring critical habitats in this region that priority bird species rely upon for food and shelter.

Young Forests and Old Fields - Areas consisting of growing grasses, shrubs, and young trees provide excellent food and cover for birds. In order to be maintained, these habitats need disturbances; either natural such as forest fires and storms or managed through timber harvesting, mowing, or prescribed burns. If left undisturbed, these environments will continue to grow and become forests. Young forest usually lasts for only 10 to 20 years. To benefit a broad range of wild creatures, conservationists may create a mosaic of different-aged habitats. Several of our highest priority species rely on young forests and old fields for portions of their life cycle. We are researching how the composition, location, and amount of this habitat influence populations of these species. One of our major objectives is the creation or restoration of 3 million acres of young forests and old fields within the AMJV boundary over the coming decades. Best practice recommendations exist to guide strategic forest management in creating this habitat in the appropriate locations. Programs are available to support landowners interested in managing for this habitat.

Mature Deciduous Forests - Heavily forested, the Appalachians contain some of the largest contiguous forest remaining in the eastern U.S. But not all forests within the region are the same. Variations in the types and ages of trees provide different habitat requirements for wildlife. Many of the forests currently present in the Appalachian region developed after mass deforestation occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century. Though they exist in large tracts with dense, closed canopies, forests today are very different from those that existed prior to the 19th century.  Present-day forests are very uniform and lack the variety of overstory and understory habitat structure required by many forest songbirds. The AMJV is looking at the habitat needs for a suite of species and working to enhance the structure of mature forests and address threats from forests pests and diseases. In addition, we our encouraging reforestation of native species or natural succession in areas that are fragmented.

High-Elevation Forests - Although high-elevation forests consisting of spruce-fir cover a relatively minor portion of the landscape within the AMJV boundary, they possess unique characteristics and are undergoing major conservation challenges. These habitats are underrepresented in bird monitoring programs, their range has greatly diminished over the last century, they face a broad array of threats, and are critically important as migratory stopovers. Our long-term goals are to develop a monitoring network for migratory bird populations in high-elevation forests, establish objectives to sustain and enhance bird populations in these habitats, and develop tools necessary to guide conservation decisions.  

Open Pine Communities - Open pine communities were much more widespread throughout the Appalachians historically, supporting viable populations of species such as Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Northern Bobwhite. Widespread suppression of fire, insect and disease outbreaks, and selective timber harvest has dramatically altered these forest communities. Coordinating with neighboring Joint Ventures, we are working to deliver numerous habitat improvement projects for open pine communities to better understand the extent and conditions of these forests. We plan on developing tools needed to inform conservation decisions and establish objectives to sustain migratory bird populations in these areas.

Wetlands - Wetlands are also important habitats within the AMJV boundary. Although wetlands here are smaller on average than other regions in North America, they are very important components of the ecosystem and provide vital resources to bird, plant, and wildlife communities. These forested wetlands still occur in relatively large blocks and encompass the headwaters of high quality streams and support populations of several priority bird species.  

Maintaining a diversity of forest habitat types in the Appalachian Mountains like the ones mentioned above benefits a diversity of wildlife and people.