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AMJV Priority: Accomplishments Creating Early Successional Habitat

Prescribed fire is used to control fuel loads and restore open woodlands and grasslands on the Washington-Jefferson National Forest; photo by USFS
Early successional habitats (ESH) - grasslands, scrub-shrub, and young forests - and several species that rely on them for a major portion of their life cycle are a priority for the AMJV and many of its partners. Two migratory species in particular, the American Woodcock and the Golden-winged Warbler, have garnered conservation interests in the Appalachians and rangewide because of their precipitous, long-term declines. Many other species of interest such as the Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Ruffed Grouse also use these habitats and can benefit from concerted, well-planned habitat management efforts.

In the northern part of the AMJV, the Appalachian Mountains Woodcock Initiative, coordinated by AMJV’s Board member Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), recently developed Best Management Practices (BMPs) for woodcock in the Central Appalachians. WMI is working with partners to plan and implement woodcock demonstration areas following BMPs. 

National Forests across the AMJV have initiated numerous habitat management and monitoring/survey projects for early successional habitat species. The George Washington-Jefferson National Forests restored more than 1,000 acres of grasslands/shrublands and restored/maintained an additional 461 acres specifically for Golden-winged Warblers. Prescribed fire  and woodland restoration also were applied widely on the George Washington-Jefferson National Forests in 2009.

The Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia is working with several partners to survey various types of early successional habitat, focusing on locating key areas for Golden-winged Warblers, but gathering data on a broader suite of species. Habitat manipulations will be targeted at these key golden-wing areas, but this work also will tie into parallel efforts being implemented on the forest (e.g., WMI and Ruffed Grouse Society stewardship projects).

The Daniel Boone (Kentucky) and Wayne (Ohio) National Forests, although outside the range of the Golden-winged Warbler, provide habitat for woodcock and numerous other resident and migratory species that rely on early successional habitat. The Daniel Boone managed 3,900 acres of forest for ESH and shrub understory improvement, applied more than 13,000 acres of prescribed fire, managed 200 acres of grassland, restored/managed 15 wetlands, and restored 3 acres of canebrakes. The Wayne National Forest expanded on an autumn olive eradication project they initiated with the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) in 2008, targeting former grass and shrubland areas on the Athens Ranger District that once supported nesting Henslow’s Sparrows. In 2009, more than 400 acres were mechanically cleared of autumn olive, allowing grasses and forbs to re-establish.

The Chattahoochee National Forest is partnering with Georgia Department of Natural Resources to restore 400 acres of open oak woodlands on Brawley Mountain. Selective logging, controlled burns, and limited herbicide use will restore Golden-winged Warbler habitat to one of the last ‘hold-outs’ for goldenwings in Georgia. The species once prospered here, when natural fires occurred at regular intervals across the landscape. Nathan Klaus (senior biologist, GA DNR Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section), Jim Wentworth (USFS Blue Ridge Ranger District wildlife biologist), and National Audubon Society’s GA Important Bird Areas coordinator Charlie Muise, partnered to get the project approved. 

State agencies are improving early successional habitats on their lands, too. Examples include:
  • Ohio Division of Wildlife staff completing the Jockey Hollow Wildlife Area mine reforestation project by planting more than 57,000 hardwood trees - including more than 2,000 hybrid American chestnuts - on approximately 50 acres of reclaimed surface-mined lands;
  • Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is converting around 2,000 acres of Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA from an early stage pine plantation to native warm season grasses. In 2009, approximately 800 acres were burned to kill the pine trees and promote the existing seedbank of native warm season grasses and forbs. Once converted, the high quality grasslands will support Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Bobwhite, Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, and Henslow’s Sparrow;
  • On North Cumberland WMA, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency burned 1,000 acres of open land to maintain early successional habitat for Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow, Ruffed Grouse, and White-eyed Vireo. If continued use of prescribed fire coverts enough of the site to grass and forb cover with scattered saplings, it may benefit Golden-winged Warblers.