LCC News

Human Dimensions Success Stories in Bird Conservation

Appalachian LCC News -

As such, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Human Dimensions Subcommittee has volunteered to take on this project and we've created the following Google form to help collect and characterize the success stories where human dimensions/social science has been used to benefit bird conservation.

For the purposes of this data collection, success is defined as some sort of management, program (or approach), monitoring or conservation status change in response to considering/collecting the HD information. For example, what changed after HD information was collected?

Thank you in advance for helping us with this exciting and useful project! Authors will be contacted before success stories are posted. The following link provides an example of how to complete the form. Feel free to submit multiple success stories by completing 1 form per success story.

Please feel free to send any papers and additional products related to your story to Ashley Gramza, NABCI Human Dimensions Subcommittee Co-Chair and National Bird Conservation Social Science Coordinator, agramza@vt.edu

Seeking Statements of Interest for Gulf Strategic Conservation Assessment Project Coordinator

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

On December 9, 2015, the Restore Council approved the Strategic Conservation Assessment of Gulf Coast Landscapes (SCA) as one among a suite of projects approved in the 2015 final Funded Priorities List.  This project will coalesce identified conservation and socioeconomic priorities into a unified conservation planning decision support tool to aid the Restore Council and Gulf coast stakeholders in identifying high priority lands for voluntary conservation efforts.  The SCA project is being led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf Restoration Team and administered through a cooperative agreement with Mississippi State University, with support from the five Gulf Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. 

The SCA project leadership team is seeking statements of interest for a qualified individual or contracting organization to take on a leadership role as of Assessment Coordinator for the SCA project.  This individual or organization must have extensive experience in coordination of stakeholder meetings and landscape-level natural resource conservation planning, preferably along the Gulf of Mexico coast.  Please see the Request for Statements of Interest description and template for detailed submission instructions available for download here: AssessmentCoordinator_Description_SCA_SOI_Final.docx.  Applicants are strongly encouraged to consult with a member of the project team (USFWS Project Officer, John Tirpak [John_tirpak@fws.gov], or MSU project lead Kristine Evans [kristine.evans@msstate.edu]) prior to statement of interest submission. 

Statements of interest will be reviewed starting May 15, 2017.

New Habitat Guidelines for Six Species of Eastern Wildlife

Appalachian LCC News -

The Guidelines for Managing Habitat for Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need describe landscape and stand-level conditions needed by these six animals. The Guidelines, which range in length from 12 to 20 pages, also identify co-occurring species, such as New England cottontail and golden-winged warbler, that could benefit from the recommended management practices. The publications were developed with input from public- and private-sector foresters, wildlife biologists and conservation planners from 12 states and three Canadian provinces.

The Guidelines were funded by the Northeast Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) Grant Program, with a matching commitment from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and other collaborating institutions. The Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies administers the RCN program to help states from Virginia to Maine implement their State Wildlife Action Plans.

The six focal species inhabit a variety of settings, forest types and successional stages across the region.

The American marten inhabits large tracts of intermediate to mature softwood, hardwood, and mixed forests in New York and northern New England. Close relatives of weasels and fishers, martens prefer an interconnected tree canopy where they can climb and move from tree to tree. Woody structure and dense vegetation near the forest floor boost prey abundance and increase denning opportunities for martens.

Bicknell’s thrush is a disturbance-adapted bird that breeds in fir-spruce forests at upper elevations in New York and northern New England. Bicknell’s thrushes typically nest in dense, low-canopy stands dominated by balsam fir, especially following fir waves, a common natural phenomenon on the region’s highest mountains. They also nest among paper birch-balsam fir saplings that arise following timber harvests or fires.

The Canada warbler is a colorful songbird that benefits from wetlands conservation and various methods of harvesting timber in upland settings. In the East, it ranges from North Carolina to northern Maine. Habitat managed for Canada wa

The rusty blackbird, one of North America’s most imperiled avian species, requires young northern softwoods for nesting. Rusty blackbirds breed in boreal and Acadian spruce-fir forests across Canada, northern New England and New York State.

The scarlet tanager is among the most brilliantly colored birds of the eastern forest. This canopy-nesting species breeds in multi-aged hardwood and mixed hardwood-softwood forests and also uses young forest habitats before migrating to South America in autumn.

The wood thrush is a ground-foraging songbird that nests in shrubs and young trees beneath a mature, hardwood-dominated canopy. Wood thrushes breed in temperate forests of eastern North America, occurring in every state from Virginia to Maine. Like most birds that breed in mature forests, wood thrushes and scarlet tanagers use areas of high sapling density, including regenerating timber harvest stands, during the post-breeding period. Many other migratory songbirds use such young forest areas, as do box turtles, timber rattlesnakes, and New England and Appalachian cottontails.

Each set of Guidelines includes information on species distribution and status, suggestions on where to create and sustain habitat, desired habitat conditions, recommended voluntary practices, managing for multiple benefits (including other wildlife that use the same habitats) plus a two-page digest of management considerations for quick reference in the office or the field.

Project leaders for the series are J. Daniel Lambert of High Branch Conservation Services of Hartland, VT, and Leonard Reitsma, professor of ecology at Plymouth State University. Additional contributors included a team of environmental biology students at Plymouth State and conservation biologists with the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

The Guidelines can be downloaded for free.

The project leaders write: “We invite you to consider applying these guidelines in forests where you work. If you anticipate using them to help plan conservation or harvest activities, please notify Dan Lambert with information about the location and extent of your project (802-436-4065). This will help us assess the level of uptake in the region. We also welcome inquiries about where the guidelines could be most effectively applied. Complementary spatial prioritizations are available upon request.”

Northeast States Release Report on Hellbender Distribution

Appalachian LCC News -

The goals of the project were to better document hellbender distribution in the Northeast using environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys and to develop a communication framework and standardized methodologies to coordinate conservation efforts throughout the region. The final report as well as eDNA and egg rearing protocol are now available on the RCN project page.

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is a large, fully aquatic salamander that prefers clear, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated streams and rivers. They are found throughout the Appalachian region from southern New York to Georgia, and in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The hellbender is declining in many parts of its range and has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The species is broadly distributed and very cryptic, making it difficult to thoroughly map its distribution using traditional approaches that rely on rock-turning to find hellbenders.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys are a relatively new approach to determining if aquatic species are present at a location. The hellbender is well suited for eDNA monitoring because it is rare, secretive, and likely sensitive to disturbance from rock-turning surveys. As aquatic species, hellbenders exude many sources of DNA into their environment including skin, feces, blood, spermatozoa, and eggs.

Like many rare species with distribution among several states, their conservation is improved when states can share knowledge and resources and work together through efficient state partnerships. This study sought to fill major data gaps in hellbender distribution throughout the northeast, and develop standardized protocols for hellbender research and monitoring and a communication framework for hellbender researchers and population managers across the region.

This project provided broad-scale knowledge about the hellbender’s distribution and generated measurable benefits for public education and wildlife conservation by engaging a large group of citizen scientists in eDNA collection. The resulting archive of frozen eDNA samples represents a ‘snapshot’ of entire biological communities at the time of sample collection, which could serve as a valuable resource for future inventory and monitoring of native fauna, introduced species, and aquatic pathogens. Through these collective efforts and the support of the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, this project established an effective framework for region-wide hellbender conservation that has resulted in a better understanding of the species’ distribution, public engagement in conservation efforts, and tangible resources to benefit wildlife conservation in the northeastern U.S.

LCC Network Receives Distinguished Landscape Practitioner Award

Appalachian LCC News -

This award is given for distinguished contributions to the application of the principles of landscape ecology to real-world problems. This decision was based on a strong nomination from the society’s membership and knowledge of LCCs contributions to sustaining landscapes through the support of 100s of projects that address landscape ecology and conservation challenges.

The award will be announced at the Banquet Dinner of the Annual Meeting of US-IALE in Baltimore from 7:00-9:00 pm on April 11 (http://baltimore2017.usiale.org/).

You're Invited to Help Protect Mallows Bay!

Appalachian LCC News -

 

Show your support by attending one of these meetings and telling NOAA that you want to protect this special place where history and nature have come together. Meetings will be held at the following locations:
March 7, 2017, 6-9 p.m. Charles County Government Building 200 Baltimore Street La Plata, MD 20646 March 9, 2017, 6-9 p.m. Anne Arundel Community College CALT Building 101 College Parkway Arnold, MD 21012
Can't make it to a public meeting? Submit a comment online
Learn more about this special place!
Mallows Bay on the Potomac River, is located just 30 miles south of Washington, D.C. along the John Smith Chesapeake Trail and is home to the largest visible collection of shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere. What began as a junkyard in the Bay has evolved into a thriving ecosystem that is full of wildlife. What makes this place even cooler is that you can kayak around and view the shipwrecks at low tide.

 

 

ACJV Flagship Species Initiative

Appalachian LCC News -

The goal was to select species and habitats that 1) represent the full geography of the partnership; 2) have a high degree of conservation need; and 3) where the Joint Venture partnership can provide the greatest added value.

The result of the retreat was to focus ACJV efforts primarily on coastal marsh habitat, with a subset of flagship species (Saltmarsh Sparrow, Black Rail and American Black Duck) chosen to represent that habitat:

Coastal marshes are one of the most imperiled habitats along the Atlantic Coast, impacted by sea level rise and coastal development. They span the entire geography of the Joint Venture, making the ACJV uniquely responsible for their conservation. The threats to this habitat are high and difficult to address; as a result, a whole suite of tidal marsh birds are in decline – some of which are facing extinction in our lifetimes.

Saltmarsh Sparrow and Black Rail – flagships of the high marsh, these two species are experiencing catastrophic declines of 90% or greater. Arresting and reversing declines will require immediate and coordinated conservation action across their breeding range.

American Black Duck – our low marsh representative, Black Duck populations have declined by half since the 1960s in our region. Restoring the former abundance of this species will require a shared and sustained commitment to coastal marsh conservation.

For all three species, the ACJV will set population goals linked to habitat goals and coordinate efforts to meet them.  Read on to see the progress we have made on flagship initiatives in the past year.

But what about all the other species?!

A common concern and question posed has been “What happens to everything else the JV has worked on in the past?” A strategic focus does not mean the JV is abandoning past priorities, but we must face the practical reality of limited capacity. The JV will invest partnership energies towards a short list of priorities where we can best contribute toward existing conservation efforts. Our flagship initiatives will occupy the bulk of staff and partnership time (about 2/3rds) but we will also continue to work strategically on non-tidal wetlands (waterfowl, shorebirds, waders) and beach habitat conservation through the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative. NAWCA will remain a major tool to meet our goals in each set of priorities.

If you have questions or concerns you would like to share contact Aimee_Weldon@fws.gov.

GCPO LCC and the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative meet in Starkville

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

Exciting things are happening in the world of grassland conservation. Dwayne Estes and Theo Witsell have been traveling across the Southeast promoting their vision for a Southeastern Grassland Initiative. Three months ago, GCPO LCC communications specialist Gregg Elliott and I saw them present their ideas to Memphis area planners and conservationists at Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. On Monday, February 27th, they came to Starkville, Mississippi to network with a greater portion of the GCPO staff and a handful of Mississippi State University faculty members involved in the science of grassland ecology. The meeting was attended by representatives of Central Hardwoods Joint Venture; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; Mississippi Natural Heritage Program; University of Central Florida; US Fish and Wildlife Service; and Wildlife Mississippi. Mississippi State University faculty attending included representatives from the Mississippi Entomological Museum; the Department of Landscape Architecture; the Department of Biological Sciences; and the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture.

I kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the contribution of the GCPO LCC to grassland conservation. Last year we produced a Grassland Condition Index data layer for our 180-million-acre geography, and that layer was folded into the broader Conservation Blueprint, which addresses the condition of our nine priority systems in the context of threats such as climate change and urbanization as well as positive elements in the landscape such as the conservation estate and species distribution models. I shared the fact that our Conservation Blueprint is nested in a larger Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) data product guiding landscape conservation across fifteen states and six Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

Regional scale challenges to grassland conservation include a lack of consensus in the scientific community as to how to categorize them as ecological systems (chiefly because they tend to grade continuously into savanna, woodland, and forest in the landscape, but also due to regional variations in substrate, topography, hydrology, and vegetation), and the lack of a repeatable method for delineating the openings on the ground in our maps (different individuals and organizations include or exclude various zones of woody vegetation when drawing grassland boundaries). These issues frustrate our effort to obtain a baseline measure of how much grassland currently exists and the condition of the patches. We have numerous organizations working on grassland conservation across the region at multiple scales: some groups are focused on a single patch, some on a specific region (such as the Black Belt), and some address only those patches within a particular state. I made the point that at times it seems that these organizations are as disjunct as the patches themselves. Until the Southeastern Grassland Initiative (SGI) took shape last year, there was no organized effort to coordinate grassland conservation specifically across the entire Southeast. The network of partnerships already established by the LCCs is a natural complement to the vision and mission of the SGI.

Botanical Explorers

After I spoke, Dwayne Estes, professor of the Center of Excellence for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and botanical explorer for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), described the recent and growing appreciation and acknowledgment of southeastern grasslands.  He recalled that, as an elementary school student, he was taught that at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans in North America, the eastern forests were so dense that a squirrel could travel tree-to-tree from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Multiple accounts of vast grasslands by early settlers and explorers indicate that such a squirrel probably would have had to have taken a very circuitous route, chiefly following the riparian zones. Dwayne’s overview of historical grasslands focused on Kentucky and Tennessee and was supported by many references to old parcel surveys and the journals and letters of early settlers. He described the development of the Southeastern Grassland Initiative last year, with early support by Austin Peay State University, philanthropic organizations, and corporate sponsors. The Initiative’s supported projects include preservation, restoration, re-creation, rescue, seedbanks, education, and market-based initiatives such as grass-fed cattle.

Theo Witsell, Grassland Biodiversity Explorer for SGI, then elaborated on the research priorities for the Initiative. The Initiative is planning to develop an inventory of grassland biodiversity by identifying all major grassland habitat types in the region, and also to conduct detailed studies both of current lands and of the historic records. These studies will improve the existing grassland fidelity index, which measures the degree to which each plant species is obligated to grassland habitats. Theo and Dwayne have discovered numerous undescribed plant species while conducting inventories on grasslands, and they expect to find more. High rates of endemism and biodiversity in southeastern grasslands contribute to the overall biodiversity of the region, which has been recognized recently as the world's 36th biodiversity hotspot by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Theo also showed us examples of grassland habitat restoration guides he has published for landowners and the public.

Green roofs and Grasshoppers

Mississippi State faculty members shared their research related to grassland ecology and conservation. Tim Schauwecker, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, highlighted student work on green roofs (birds more frequently visit green roofs, both those planted with the traditional sedum cover and those planted with prairie grasses, than conventional roofs), the use of General Land Office survey notes to find prairie patches in the Jackson Prairie Belt, and the development of a biodiversity index for the city of Starkville. Tim also described recent work on a management plan for the Catalpa Creek watershed, which contains extensive agricultural research fields on the MSU campus, and a planned Wetland Education Theatre with a native grass component to be installed at his Department’s facilities.

Jovonn Hill and Richard Brown described work done at the Mississippi Entomological Museum, housed on the Mississippi State University campus. The GCPO LCC uses species habitat models based mostly on birds. Dwayne and Theo focus primarily on the rare and endemic plants. Insects play an important ecological role, both as pollinators and as a food source for other species. Those of us largely unfamiliar with the science learned a great deal. Many insects -- grasshoppers were a prominent example -- occur only in grasslands, some only in the Black Belt, and some only on particular single patches such as Osborn prairie, a relict patch under TVA power lines a couple of miles northeast of Starkville. Some occur in only one county in Mississippi and one county in Minnesota.

As with the relictual plant species mentioned in my description of the SePPCon conference, this pattern of very rare species occurring at locations very far apart indicates that the species is very old and that the particular location is a remnant of a larger ecological system that was intact long ago. Twenty thousand years ago states such as Illinois and Oklahoma, where tallgrass prairie was extensive at the time of European settlement, were occupied by coniferous forests, and the prairies of the Southeast were refugia for most of the grassland species that colonized the Midwest when the forests and glaciers receded northward. Information on just how these species migrated, whether they dispersed through the grasslands of Tennessee and Kentucky or whether they expanded into the Piedmont and Appalachian regions and then westward across present-day New York, is contained in the genetic markers of the species found on the relict sites.

Staying Genetically True and Other Challenges Ahead

Understanding of the genetics and the use of local genotypes in restoration is important, because success is more likely when species adapted to those local conditions are used. In practice, the local genotypes are difficult to obtain. Seed collection, germination, caring for and transporting the plugs, are all labor intensive processes. In many situations, a private landowner has no choice but to use plant stock from another state. Furthermore, so-called conservative plant species, those restricted to a very particular habitat, can be “uncooperative” when encouraged to expand. Simply expanding the size of the opening by thinning and removing the tree cover is not enough to expand the relict patch because the rare species have trouble competing against the more weedy early successional vegetation.

Above: Cara Joos, Science Coordinator for the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, makes a point to the group.

In the follow-up discussion, three main challenges to a regional approach to grassland restoration and conservation were identified:

  1. The popularity of the field of science once known as “Natural History,” an integrated science that considers biotic and abiotic interactions (plants, animals, the physical environment), is declining. Biology departments are increasingly focused on specialized fields such as molecular biology. As current biologists with expertise in field-based research retire, fewer are coming along to take their place.
  2. Plants with local genetic characteristics are vital for quality restoration work. Companies exist that will collect seed and propagate plants from local stock, but at significant cost.
  3. A baseline assessment, a current inventory, requires a mapping methodology that can parse out warm season and cool season, or native and non-native grasslands, efficiently across large landscapes. This is a known issue in the geospatial science and conservation community, and we continue to seek solutions.

In the end, all partners came away with a better understanding of the current and potential state of regional scale grassland conservation. The staff of the GCPO LCC was very impressed with the depth of botanical knowledge that grounds the Southeastern Grassland Initiative and the possible applications of that knowledge, such as the on-going effort to digitize and geo-tag the thousands of grassland obligate specimens found in the many herbaria of our region. Dwayne and Theo of the SGI expressed appreciation for the geospatial science products developed by the LCC and their potential applications. And we were all impressed by the work done by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Entomological Museum here at Mississippi State University and how their projects can strengthen and enhance our conservation work. This meeting laid the groundwork for what we hope is a highly effective regional partnership as we move forward to conserve this ecologically important and highly imperiled feature of the southeastern landscape.

GCPO LCC and the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative meet in Starkville

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

Exciting things are happening in the world of grassland conservation. Dwayne Estes and Theo Witsell have been traveling across the Southeast promoting their vision for a Southeastern Grassland Initiative. Three months ago, GCPO LCC communications specialist Gregg Elliott and I saw them present their ideas to Memphis area planners and conservationists at Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. On Monday, February 27th, they came to Starkville, Mississippi to network with a greater portion of the GCPO staff and a handful of Mississippi State University faculty members involved in the science of grassland ecology. The meeting was attended by representatives of Arkansas Heritage Commission; Central Hardwoods Joint Venture; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; Mississippi Natural Heritage Program; University of Central Florida; US Fish and Wildlife Service; and Wildlife Mississippi. Mississippi State University faculty attending included representatives from the Mississippi Entomological Museum; the Department of Landscape Architecture; the Department of Biological Sciences; and the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture.

I kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the contribution of the GCPO LCC to grassland conservation. Last year we produced a Grassland Condition Index data layer for our 180-million-acre geography, and that layer was folded into the broader Conservation Blueprint, which addresses the condition of our nine priority systems in the context of threats such as climate change and urbanization as well as positive elements in the landscape such as the conservation estate and species distribution models. I shared the fact that our Conservation Blueprint is nested in a larger Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) data product guiding landscape conservation across fifteen states and six Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

Regional scale challenges to grassland conservation include a lack of consensus in the scientific community as to how to categorize them as ecological systems (chiefly because they tend to grade continuously into savanna, woodland, and forest in the landscape, but also due to regional variations in substrate, topography, hydrology, and vegetation), and the lack of a repeatable method for delineating the openings on the ground in our maps (different individuals and organizations include or exclude various zones of woody vegetation when drawing grassland boundaries). These issues frustrate our effort to obtain a baseline measure of how much grassland currently exists and the condition of the patches. We have numerous organizations working on grassland conservation across the region at multiple scales: some groups are focused on a single patch, some on a specific region (such as the Black Belt), and some address only those patches within a particular state. I made the point that at times it seems that these organizations are as disjunct as the patches themselves. Until the Southeastern Grassland Initiative (SGI) took shape last year, there was no organized effort to coordinate grassland conservation specifically across the entire Southeast. The network of partnerships already established by the LCCs is a natural complement to the vision and mission of the SGI.

The View of a Botanical Explorer

After I spoke, Dwayne Estes, professor of the Center of Excellence for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and botanical explorer for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), described the recent and growing appreciation and acknowledgment of southeastern grasslands.  He recalled that, as an elementary school student, he was taught that at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans in North America, the eastern forests were so dense that a squirrel could travel tree-to-tree from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Multiple accounts of vast grasslands by early settlers and explorers indicate that such a squirrel probably would have had to have taken a very circuitous route, chiefly following the riparian zones. Dwayne’s overview of historical grasslands focused on Kentucky and Tennessee and was supported by many references to old parcel surveys and the journals and letters of early settlers. He described the development of the Southeastern Grassland Initiative last year, with early support by Austin Peay State University, philanthropic organizations, and corporate sponsors. The Initiative’s supported projects include preservation, restoration, re-creation, rescue, seedbanks, education, and market-based initiatives such as grass-fed cattle.

Theo Witsell, botanist with the Arkansas Heritage Commission, then elaborated on the SGI research priorities. The Initiative is planning to develop an inventory of grassland biodiversity by identifying all major grassland habitat types in the region, and also to conduct detailed studies both of current lands and of the historic records. These studies will improve the existing grassland fidelity index, which measures the degree to which each plant species is obligated to grassland habitats. Theo and Dwayne have discovered numerous undescribed plant species while conducting inventories on grasslands, and they expect to find more. High rates of endemism and biodiversity in southeastern grasslands contribute to the overall biodiversity of the region, which has been recognized recently as the world's 36th biodiversity hotspot by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Theo also showed us examples of grassland habitat restoration guides he has published for landowners and the public.

Green roofs and Grasshoppers

Mississippi State faculty members shared their research related to grassland ecology and conservation. Tim Schauwecker, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, highlighted student work on green roofs (birds more frequently visit green roofs, both those planted with the traditional sedum cover and those planted with prairie grasses, than conventional roofs), the use of General Land Office survey notes to find prairie patches in the Jackson Prairie Belt, and the development of a biodiversity index for the city of Starkville. Tim also described recent work on a management plan for the Catalpa Creek watershed, which contains extensive agricultural research fields on the MSU campus, and a planned Wetland Education Theatre with a native grass component to be installed at his Department’s facilities.

Jovonn Hill and Richard Brown described work done at the Mississippi Entomological Museum, housed on the Mississippi State University campus. The GCPO LCC uses species habitat models based mostly on birds. Dwayne and Theo focus primarily on the rare and endemic plants. Insects play an important ecological role, both as pollinators and as a food source for other species. Those of us largely unfamiliar with the science learned a great deal. Many insects -- grasshoppers were a prominent example -- occur only in grasslands, some only in the Black Belt, and some only on particular single patches such as Osborn prairie, a relict patch under TVA power lines a couple of miles northeast of Starkville. Some occur in only one county in Mississippi and one county in Minnesota.

As with the relictual plant species mentioned in my description of the SePPCon conference, this pattern of very rare species occurring at locations very far apart indicates that the species is very old and that the particular location is a remnant of a larger ecological system that was intact long ago. Twenty thousand years ago states such as Illinois and Oklahoma, where tallgrass prairie was extensive at the time of European settlement, were occupied by coniferous forests, and the prairies of the Southeast were refugia for most of the grassland species that colonized the Midwest when the forests and glaciers receded northward. Information on just how these species migrated, whether they dispersed through the grasslands of Tennessee and Kentucky or whether they expanded into the Piedmont and Appalachian regions and then westward across present-day New York, is contained in the genetic markers of the species found on the relict sites.

Staying Genetically True and Other Challenges Ahead

Understanding of the genetics and the use of local genotypes in restoration is important, because success is more likely when species adapted to those local conditions are used. In practice, the local genotypes are difficult to obtain. Seed collection, germination, caring for and transporting the plugs, are all labor intensive processes. In many situations, a private landowner has no choice but to use plant stock from another state. Furthermore, so-called conservative plant species, those restricted to a very particular habitat, can be “uncooperative” when encouraged to expand. Simply expanding the size of the opening by thinning and removing the tree cover is not enough to expand the relict patch because the rare species have trouble competing against the more weedy early successional vegetation.

Above: Cara Joos, Science Coordinator for the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, makes a point to the group.

In the follow-up discussion, three main challenges to a regional approach to grassland restoration and conservation were identified:

  1. The popularity of the field of science once known as “Natural History,” an integrated science that considers biotic and abiotic interactions (plants, animals, the physical environment), is declining. Biology departments are increasingly focused on specialized fields such as molecular biology. As current biologists with expertise in field-based research retire, fewer are coming along to take their place.
  2. Plants with local genetic characteristics are vital for quality restoration work. Companies exist that will collect seed and propagate plants from local stock, but at significant cost.
  3. A baseline assessment, a current inventory, requires a mapping methodology that can parse out warm season and cool season, or native and non-native grasslands, efficiently across large landscapes. This is a known issue in the geospatial science and conservation community, and we continue to seek solutions.

In the end, all partners came away with a better understanding of the current and potential state of regional scale grassland conservation. The staff of the GCPO LCC was very impressed with the depth of botanical knowledge that grounds the Southeastern Grassland Initiative and the possible applications of that knowledge, such as the on-going effort to digitize and geo-tag the thousands of grassland obligate specimens found in the many herbaria of our region. Dwayne and Theo of the SGI expressed appreciation for the geospatial science products developed by the LCC and their potential applications. And we were all impressed by the work done by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Entomological Museum here at Mississippi State University and how their projects can strengthen and enhance our conservation work. This meeting laid the groundwork for what we hope is a highly effective regional partnership as we move forward to conserve this ecologically important and highly imperiled feature of the southeastern landscape.

Dead Zone Redemption

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

A great post from The Nature Conservancy's Bryan Piazza, director of freshwater and marine science for TNC's Louisiana program on working smart to address Gulf hypoxia.  Bryan cites Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as important partners to in scientific targeting to "align along our shared nutrient reduction goals to ensure that our collective efforts have maximum impact in the primary focus states and throughout the Mississippi River Basin."

Read the full Dead Zone Redemption blog post.

Dead Zone Redemption

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

A great post from The Nature Conservancy's Bryan Piazza, director of freshwater and marine science for TNC's Louisiana program on working smart to address Gulf hypoxia.  Bryan cites Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as important partners to in scientific targeting to "align along our shared nutrient reduction goals to ensure that our collective efforts have maximum impact in the primary focus states and throughout the Mississippi River Basin."

Read the full Dead Zone Redemption blog post.

GCPO LCC solicits Statements of Interest for research projects

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

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The long-range vision for the GCPO LCC’s Conservation Blueprint is to develop a strategic framework for collaborative conservation. It is envisioned that the strategic framework will allow the proactive assessment of conservation or other land use change outcomes in terms of the objectives of the partnership (e.g. reversing declines of a particular species).  Currently, the GCPO LCC lacks objectives or species-habitat models for most of the species identified in its draft Integrated Science Agenda. The GCPO LCC’s Blueprint Development Team identified this need as its highest priority to address in 2017.  (The Team includes the GCPO LCC’s  Adaptation Science Management Team plus staff from Joint Ventures, the Southeastern Aquatic Resource Partnership, State Wildlife Action Plans, and the National Wildlife Refuge Inventory & Monitoring program.)

To meet this need, the GCPO LCC is soliciting Statements of Interest (SOIs) to identify potential investigators for one or more projects addressing the LCC’s need for models of species-habitat relationships. Funding for projects will be contingent upon sufficient appropriations. You can download the full request and submit an SOI at http://fwrc.msstate.edu/gcpolcc/.  

GCPO LCC solicits Statements of Interest for research projects

Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News -

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The long-range vision for the GCPO LCC’s Conservation Blueprint is to develop a strategic framework for collaborative conservation. It is envisioned that the strategic framework will allow the proactive assessment of conservation or other land use change outcomes in terms of the objectives of the partnership (e.g. reversing declines of a particular species).  Currently, the GCPO LCC lacks objectives or species-habitat models for most of the species identified in its draft Integrated Science Agenda. The GCPO LCC’s Blueprint Development Team identified this need as its highest priority to address in 2017.  (The Team includes the GCPO LCC’s  Adaptation Science Management Team plus staff from Joint Ventures, the Southeastern Aquatic Resource Partnership, State Wildlife Action Plans, and the National Wildlife Refuge Inventory & Monitoring program.)

To meet this need, the GCPO LCC is soliciting Statements of Interest (SOIs) to identify potential investigators for one or more projects addressing the LCC’s need for models of species-habitat relationships. Funding for projects will be contingent upon sufficient appropriations. You can download the full request and submit an SOI at http://fwrc.msstate.edu/gcpolcc/.  

Fire History of the Appalachian Region: A Review and Synthesis

Appalachian LCC News -

Download the report here.

The importance of fire in shaping Appalachian vegetation has become increasingly apparent over the last 25 years. This period has seen declines in oak (Quercus) and pine (Pinus) forests and other re-dependent ecosystems, which in the near-exclusion of re are being replaced by re-sensitive mesophytic vegetation. These vegetation changes imply that Appalachian vegetation had developed under a history of burning before the re-exclusion era, a possibility that has motivated investigations of Appalachian re history using proxy evidence. Here we synthesize those investigations to obtain an up-to-date portrayal of Appalachian re history.

We organize the report by data type, beginning with studies of high-resolution data on recent res to provide a context for interpreting the lower-resolution proxy data. Each proxy is addressed in a subsequent chapter, beginning with witness trees and continuing to re-scarred trees, stand age structure, and soil and sediment charcoal. Taken together, these proxies portray frequent burning in the past.

Fires had occurred at short intervals (a few years) for centuries before the re-exclusion era. Indeed, burning has played an important ecological role for millennia. Fires were especially common and spatially extensive on landscapes with large expanses of oak and pine forest, notably in the Ridge and Valley province and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Burning favored oak and pine at the expense of mesophytic competitors, but re exclusion has enabled mesophytic plants to expand from re-sheltered sites onto dry slopes that formerly supported pyrogenic vegetation. These changes underscore the need to restore re- dependent ecosystems.

Appalachian Wildlife Center - Partnering for Wildlife and People in an Economically-Depressed Region

Appalachian LCC News -

Eastern Kentucky has been identified by the New York Times as one of the hardest places to live in the United States, statistically speaking. Of the 31 counties that make up the eastern coalfields, 17 are ranked in the bottom 100 nationally for levels of median household income. In most, poverty levels exceed 25 percent, and this trend continues to a large degree throughout Appalachia.

The wildlife-tourism concept is to revitalize this blight-stricken region in the post-coal era by capitalizing on the abundance of fish and wildlife resources in the region and the tourism that it can drive. For generations, eastern Kentucky has relied on the extraction of finite resources (coal and gas), which have both created and destroyed quality fish and wildlife habitat. Descendants of coal-miners and other residents are now beginning to realize that the future of the region lies in the unique and often abundant flora and fauna of the region, and the desire of visitors to experience it.

Educating visitors who often have limited time to visit an area takes a special approach. Successful examples include the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park in east Tennessee and the Elk Country Visitor Center in the central coalfields near Benezette, Pennsylvania. Both locations were developed based on the opportunity to view restored elk populations in the East, and both have been wildly successful – drawing more than 200,000 and 400,000 annual visitors, respectively.

Working from these successful examples, the non-profit Appalachian Wildlife Foundation began incorporating and operationalizing a similar effort in eastern Kentucky. Their concept, the Appalachian Wildlife Center (the Center), is projected to draw more than 600,000 visitors each year to experience the natural beauty of the southern Appalachians. Slated to begin construction in 2017 with a completion date of 2023, the Center’s $24 million budget will fund the construction of a 45,000-square foot visitor’s center as well as habitat improvement projects and a 15-mile trail system across more than 12,500 acres in Bell County, KY. Ultimately, the Center is projected to employee approximately 96 staff, create 2,043 local jobs, and generate more than $441 million in regional economic impact during the first 5 years.

The Center is centrally located in proximity to the largest wild elk herd east of the Rocky Mountains and will be the most accessible location in the eastern United States to see elk. The region is also home to black bear, white-tailed deer, bobcat, wild turkey, numerous small mammal species, and an abundance of bird species. At the Center, visitors will find a museum of natural and regional history, an exhibit dedicated to elk restoration in the Appalachians, and a bird watchers exhibit with information on the more than 240 species that occur in the area. Visitors will also find other regionally-relevant wildlife exhibits, an artisans market where local artists and craftsmen will display their skills and work, a gift shop, food court, and classrooms.

The Center has the real potential to be a windfall for local economies that have been devastated by the collapse of the coal industry. Even though the Center will be a major tourist attraction, its mission will focus on wildlife conservation education and research on the restoration and improvement of coal mines for wildlife habitat and agricultural production. Additionally, accredited conservation education programs that meet state standards in science, reading, and math for students and schools in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina will be implemented that feature both remote learning and on-site classroom presentations.

Our wild, natural resources remain one of the most important and valuable economic drivers for the United States. Combining the desire for visitors to enjoy the natural history and heritage of southern Appalachia, the poverty-level economics of a depressed, post-coal region, and the abundant and often unique floral and faunal communities that occur in that region once again creates the opportunity to use the natural abundance of fish and wildlife resources to develop unprecedented, renewable economic impact to one of the poorest regions in the United States.

Partnerships are also the key to any large-scale successful conservation endeavor. The work being performed by the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and others, as well as the active engagement of regional conservation initiatives such as the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the Appalachian Joint Venture, and numerous conservation NGO’s, including WMI, will help to ensure the future of the region’s people, wildlife, and other natural resources.

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