Six-state habitat restoration project sees progress on 130,000 acres in year one

Posted Jan. 13, 2011, at 10:13 a.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders of a massive, six-state, 1.1 million-acre habitat restoration initiative that will potentially benefit a host of rare birds and many species of wildlife say that the project has had an auspicious start with restoration work initiated on about 130,000 acres.

According to a a press release from the American Bird Conservancy the goal of the project, which focuses on the restoration of native ecosystems such as barrens, glades, and open oak and open pine woodlands, is taking place in Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Illinois.

The goal is to return the vegetation in dozens of key locations to a condition approximating its natural state in the hopes that many wildlife species that were once abundant, can again thrive. The initiative is being lead by about a dozen state and federal land-managing agencies and non-governmental organizations associated with the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV), a public-private partnership for conservation in the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region (see www.chjv.org).

“One of the biggest challenges we face is overcoming decades of aggressive fire prevention efforts that, though well intentioned, have resulted in the loss of vital understory shrub and grass … that were part of the historic landscape,” said Jane Fitzgerald, Project Director for American Bird Conservancy, one of the leaders in this effort.

“Most of the targeted ecosystems are unfortunately now overgrown by dense stands of trees that diminish the suitability of the environment for native species. Without near-term restoration efforts, such as those now taking place, the seed banks and rootstock that would allow the understory to recover may no longer be viable,” Fitzgerald said.

Restoration work in 2010 included vegetation thinning and prescribed burns. Those kinds of efforts have already been taking place on more limited acres, but with the help of sophisticated spatial models developed by CHJV staff, can now increase in scale. For example, the scientists are now able to better identify sites most conducive to restoration work and to see where inter-agency partnerships can help to enact habitat work across landscapes at scales capable of sustaining relatively large and healthy populations of target species. While there is reason to expect that the habitat work will continue at a pace similar to that of 2010, local partnerships hope that the synergy they create by working together will help to garner increased resources and capacity in coming years, ABC’s press release said.

Many of the bird species that would benefit from this long-term restoration effort are listed on the U.S. Watch List of birds of conservation concern due to dwindling populations or habitat loss. These include the Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, and Blue-winged Warbler-species that need open habitats rather than closed-canopy forests, and that have either disappeared from the target areas or have been greatly diminished from historic levels.

In addition to birds, other wildlife that may benefit from the project include: Indiana bat, red bat, eastern gray treefrog, Texas mouse, eastern woodrat, eastern chipmunk, giant swallowtail butterfly, Diana frittalary butterfly, lichen grasshopper, Dusky gopher frog, Northern Cave Crayfish and collared lizard. Threatened and endangered plants that may benefit include Tennessee Coneflower, Tennessee Milk Vetch and Eggert’s Sunflower.

Fitzgerald said that there is also great potential for local economies to benefit directly from the project by receiving contracts to carry out the restoration work.

American Bird Conservancy (www.abcbirds.org) conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

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