Developing Rapid Assessment Metrics for Measuring Open Pine Ecosystem Health in the Southeastern United States

Southeastern United States

About This Project

Open woodlands dominated by southern yellow pine were historically a large component of the landscape across the southeastern United States. These woodlands have an open canopy of longleaf, slash, shortleaf, and/or loblolly pines, with scattered shrubs and a grassy understory. These southern open pine ecosystems support many species of wildlife, many of which have declined in recent years as the amount and condition of their habitat has declined. This troubling decline in wildlife species has led to a focus on regional conservation efforts by America’s Longleaf, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, state wildlife agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, National Bobwhite Quail Initiative, regional Bird Conservation Joint Ventures, The Nature Conservancy, the Shortleaf Pine Initative, and other conservation partners. These groups all agree that there is a need for more high quality open pine acreage, and an efficient, agreed upon, way to identify those tracts that are providing the best habitat for key wildlife species.

In 2016, NatureServe in partnership with the Gulf Coastal Plain and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCPO LCC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture developed desired forest condition Version 1.0 southern open pine rapid assessment metrics to measure wildlife habitat value and ecological integrity of tracts of land, with a primary focus on lands being managed primarily for conservation.

In 2018, NatureServe released updated, version 2.0 southern open pine rapid assessment metrics. These metrics have been improved through work in partnership with the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the US Forest Service (National Forests in South Carolina), Environmental Defense Fund, and two NatureServe Network partners; Florida Natural Areas Inventory, and Alabama Natural Heritage Program.

These desired forest condition metrics help conservation-minded landowners and land managers understand how their properties are contributing to the habitat needs of priority wildlife of southern open pine ecosystems.

Goal

The project's two primary goals were to:

  • Develop metrics to measure open pine wildlife habitat and ecological health based on peer-reviewed literature, original research, and expert input and
  • Summarize metrics in an easy to use, rapid assessment protocols document for use by those managing open pine stands primarily for conservation.

Significance

This tool allows land managers to quickly assess stand-scale ecological health.