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In this edition of the AMJV Newsletter, you'll find updates from AMJV staff as well as information about funding sources and upcoming meetings!


AMJV Summer 2022 Newsletter
 


AMJV Updates 

AMJV Management Board Meets

The AMJV Board Members, staff, and guests (31 conservation professionals in total) met virtually on May 11th & 12th to discuss topics including updates from AMJV teams; the AMJV budget; upcoming grant opportunities and potential multi-state projects; new AMJV Communications products that are available; partner updates from focal landscapes (see “Focus on Focal Landscapes’ update below); regional initiatives; State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs); and Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work around the region. 

Notably, staff from the American Forest Foundation (AFF) gave a presentation about the White Oak Initiative, which strives to restore the economically and ecologically valuable white oak forest type to historic regions, where future white oak forests are threatened for a variety of reasons. Their recent White Oak Initiative Assessment and Conservation Plan is available online, and anyone interested in more information on the initiative can reach out to the White Oak Initiative contacts on their website.

 

White oak forests are of great ecological and economical importance, but they are disappearing from the landscape. The White Oak Initiative was formed to address this issue by restoring and enhancing white oak forests in their native range. Photo by Amanda Duren, AMJV/ABC

Moreover, Dee Blanton from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gave a presentation about the Northeast Region’s work/tools regarding pulling together SWAPs from various states and creating common language and metrics for those plans. The AMJV Board and staff discussed opportunities for the JV to facilitate greater coordination in SWAP revisions across states as well as developing a regional implementation strategy once revisions are complete. 
 

Large Eastern Motus Proposal Funded

Numerous AMJV partners contributed to a successfully funded Competitive State Wildlife Grant (C-SWG)  to increase the Motus network in the Eastern United States. AMJV Science Coordinator Becky Keller and members of the AMJV Motus Team were among approximately 35 partners to submit a $1.3 million C-SWG proposal in February 2022. The C-SWG proposal, entitled Identifying Species of Greatest Conservation Need Habitat Use Across Multiple Scales Throughout the Eastern United States Using Motus Wildlife Tracking System, was submitted by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (lead state), the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. The project will increase the Motus infrastructure in the Southeast by installing 35 new receiving stations, allow for the maintenance of existing NE towers/stations, and support tagging projects on a variety of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including the Rusty Blackbird, Eastern Towhee, Golden-winged Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Canada Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Gray Bats, and Bog Turtles. The grant will also provide support for a SE Motus Coordinator and technical assistance for installing new receiving stations in the Southeast.


The newly funded Eastern Motus proposal will support tagging projects for a variety of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including Northern Saw-whet Owls. Photo by Shelly Hauschel and courtesy of Shutterstock and ABC
 

RAWA Passed the House

On June 14th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of passing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) (H.R.2773). Next stop, the Senate! RAWA is a bipartisan wildlife conservation bill designed to fund much needed wildlife conservation work across America (and create jobs in the process!). Read this recent press release from the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife to learn more about this important bill.
 

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Leadership in Conservation Award Presented to AMJV and Partners

The AMJV recently was a co-recipient of the SFI Leadership in Conservation Award in partnership with Weyerhaeuser, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), American Bird Conservancy (ABC), West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), and West Virginia University (WVU). 

The award was received for a NFWF-funded and SFI-managed project that the AMJV and partners are working together on in order to recover critical species habitat in managed forests in West Virginia and to foster partnerships required to combat bird population declines at a landscape-scale. Additional support for the project came from the United States Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.


Cerulean Warblers are one of the species that will benefit from a West Virginia-based habitat management project that the AMJV and Partners are working together on. Participants in this project recently received an SFI Leadership in Conservation Award to recognize their contributions. Photo by Tessa Nickels and courtesy of ABC

The AMJV has sought greater engagement with forest industry for some time, so this project has been a welcome opportunity. Forest management in the Appalachians is the primary tool for improving forest habitat for migratory birds – coupling that with forest certification not only strengthens the foundation for sustainable forest management, but opens many new potential opportunities, such as the potential for marketing bird friendly forestry. 

This project also builds on the already strong and successful partnership between ABC and SFI. We greatly appreciate the collaborative and inclusive approach SFI has taken with this project, and we look forward to expanding this partnership. 

For more information, read SFI’s recent press release about the award.

 

New AMJV Communications Products Available

The new 2021 Year in Review is available on the AMJV website, along with the newly-released AMJV Outreach Toolkit. This toolkit offers guidance and resources for conservation professionals to effectively communicate with the public about managing Appalachian forests for the birds and other wildlife that depend on them.


The 2021 AMJV Year in Review is now available on AMJV's website, along with the newly-released AMJV Outreach Toolkit and past issues of AMJV communications products.

The toolkit was designed as a “living” resource to allow for content to be added continuously at various intervals. Currently, the following sections exist: Introduction, Forest Carbon, Forest Management, Prescribed Fire, and Additional Outreach Tools, which includes existing reports and toolkits to help professionals to communicate with stakeholders and better understand their motivations (e.g. Language of Conservation, National Woodland Owners Survey, Talking Trees (an urban forestry toolkit), and a couple of others).

Each section contains items such as overview materials, outreach templates (including social media posts), key messages, FAQs, webinars, research, and other tools to familiarize partners with forest management topics. The templates can be downloaded and customized to use in outreach. 


The AMJV Outreach Toolkit includes templates and downloadable materials, such as social media posts (like the young forest/pollinator image above) and brochures, for a range of forestry-related topics.

Additional Toolkit topics that may be added in the future include: strategies for engaging non-traditional partners, forming working groups, identifying stakeholders, and communicating with government officials; focal landscape specific tools; and effects of solar and other energy infrastructure on birds. 

Everyone is invited to please share the Toolkit widely and send suggestions about the Toolkit or future section topics to us via the AMJV website or email (jwise@abcbirds.org).

The 2021 Year in Review and AMJV Outreach Toolkit - as well as past issues of the Year in Review, Technical Digests, Newsletters, Partner Spotlights, and more - can be found under the new Communications Tab on the AMJV website.


Visit amjv.org and click the new Communications tab to access AMJV communications products, including the newly-released AMJV Outreach Toolkit.
 

AMJV Announces Virtual Learning Opportunity

We are excited to announce the first of AMJV’s (FREE) virtual courses: Forest Management for Birds!


Visit amjv.org to check out the first of AMJV's free virtual courses: Forest Management for Birds!

The course introduces forest landowners to strategies and resources for improving habitat on their properties to benefit a variety of birds and other wildlife, including game species and pollinators. Participants will virtually tour properties that highlight practices that can be used to change forest structure and promote the growth of desired tree and plant species in their woods. They’ll also hear from other landowners who have chosen to manage their forest for birds, as well as forestry professionals that can help them learn how to begin planning these practices on their own properties.

Topics covered in this training include:

Using Timber Management Practices to Create Wildlife Habitat
Other Forest Management Practices to Improve Habitat Quality
Steps for Successful Management on Your Property
Financial and Technical Assistance Resources for Forest Landowners

Visit our website to register for the free, self-paced online course or simply browse the course content.

Our AMJV team would also love to hear your feedback about the course! Please let us know your thoughts via the survey at the end of the course to help us make it as useful as possible for course users. 
 

Focus on Focal Landscapes: Updates from Across the Region

As we mark five years since the Focal Landscape Initiative was established, the AMJV and our partners have a lot to celebrate!

This program has fundamentally changed how we plan and deliver conservation, helping to make our work more inclusive, strategic, and effective. By adopting a holistic planning framework to support partner-driven priorities, AMJV has been successful in building new partnerships and strengthening long-standing relationships.

Since 2017, we have established 6 focal landscapes across eight states and led or directly supported 15 grant-funded projects with investments of over $5 million towards forest conservation. You can read updates about much of the great work that partners are working on in focal landscapes by checking out the recent Focal Landscape Initiative Report created for our May AMJV Board Meeting.


The map above shows the locations of the 6 focal landscapes that have been established in the AMJV Region since the Focal Landscape Initiative began in 2017.


Partner Spotlight: The Nature Conservancy’s Allegheny Highlands Program

Our AMJV partners are the backbone of bird conservation and healthy forest restoration throughout our region. To highlight some of the wonderful work they do, we will be spotlighting partners throughout the year, beginning with partners who work within our focal landscapes.

In the Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia lies a vast landscape of private and publicly-owned forestland that is a hotspot for biodiversity, provides ecosystem benefits, and serves as an important migratory pathway for predicted wildlife movement in response to climate change. Perhaps most commonly known for being a recreational oasis, this multi-county swath also provides habitat for many priority songbird species - such as the Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Wood Thrush - lending to its designation as the AMJV Virginia Highlands Focal Landscape, where many state, federal, and non-profit partners work together with private landowners to ensure the continued verdure of the landscape as well as the health of local residents and the multitude of wildlife that inhabit it.

The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Allegheny Highlands Program (AHP) - based in Lexington, VA and staffed by four conservation professionals - is one such partner working in the area. Their small local team is making a significant positive conservation impact in the focal landscape (and throughout Appalachia) by employing TNC’s successful Private Lands Conservation Program as well as collaborating with local partners to carry out research, monitoring, community organizing, and planning and implementation of forest restoration activities, such as prescribed fire, to bring back a dynamic, healthy forested landscape in the region. 


View from an overlook in the Virginia Highlands Focal Landscape. Photo by Amanda Duren, AMJV/ABC

The majority of the AHP’s work is carried out on the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, a nearly 9,000-acre contiguous forestland in the heart of the Allegheny Highlands. As described on TNC’s homepage for the preserve, it is known as “one of the largest and most ecologically significant private forests in the Central Appalachians” and protects headwater tributaries in the area while providing habitat for a diversity of wildlife. TNC kindly provides access to the preserve for researchers from other organizations, including AMJV and our partners, allowing a variety of conservation studies to occur there. In fact, their team recently assisted the AMJV and researchers from The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory (UMCES AL) to deploy autonomous recording units, or ARUs, on public and private lands as part of a monitoring program to track bird populations within the focal landscape. 


A picturesque scene of a forested mountain stream captured by UMCES AL researchers during recent bird monitoring fieldwork in the Virginia Highlands Focal Landscape. Photo by Emily Cohen, UMCES AL

The AHP team also manages nearby large tracts of land that were gifted to TNC by local property owners (such as the Seman's Family and Mr. Fitz Gary) who desired to ensure the long-term protection of the farms and forests that they, often for generations, had cherished while contributing to the conservation success in this special area of the Appalachians. The team’s work crosses ownership boundaries as well; they collaborate with the USDA Forest Service, state agencies, and groups to carry out conservation endeavors on much of the 77,000-acre unfragmented, largely roadless forest block of public and private land that surrounds TNC’s preserves in the area.

Restoring a diversity of forest types on the Allegheny Highlands landscape is a priority focus of the AHP’s work. Historically, a patchwork of forest ages and structures existed across the region’s landscape due to intermittent natural disturbances, such as pests and pathogens, wind events, ice storms, and - arguably the most important disturbance - wildfires (as well as fires started by indigenous peoples). Perhaps surprisingly, as outlined in a TNC article about their management in the Allegheny Highlands, researchers compared fire-scar patterns on thousands of trees and discovered that fires occurred in the landscape on average every 3-9 years dating back to the mid-1600s. Furthermore, carbon dating of soil charcoal and pond sediment confirmed regular fire events during the last 10,000 years! These fires, not as extreme as the wildfires that make headlines today in the western United States, would range in severity, killing several mature trees in some areas while burning at a low intensity in others. In their wake, the fires left a heterogeneous matrix of closed-canopy, open-canopy, and young forests with lush herbaceous layers across the landscape that hosted a diverse array of plant and animal species. Put in simpler terms, “disturbance drives diversity,” says Blair Smyth, Director of the AHP.


Drone imagery showcasing the mosaic of forest structures created after three prescribed burns. Photo by James Davis, TNC

However, as explained in the group’s recent webinar: The Edge of Appalachia, regular disturbance events in the way of fires have been lacking since early in the 20th century. In the 1920s, state and federal agencies began snuffing out wildfires, which were burning more severely and with more frequency than normal in the Appalachians at the time - many being caused by sparks from developing railroad systems. The well-known Smokey Bear campaign was successful - some may say it was too successful - at removing nearly all wildfires from the landscape. The lack of regular fires over the last century allowed fuels (downed trees and leaf litter) to build up on the forest floor. Now, when a wildfire does occur, it is often severe and can threaten nearby residents in addition to the health of the forest it burns through with scorching intensity. Moreover, this lack of regular fire, “the great maintainer,” as described by Smyth, led to the less diverse, mainly closed-canopy forest landscape that we see today in the Allegheny Highlands.


Inside a controlled burn (right), fire has thinned out the sapling layer, allowing more sunlight on the forest floor which stimulates grasses, wildflowers, and young trees. Photo by Nikole Simmons, TNC


Closed-canopy forests consist of densely growing mature trees that restrict sunlight from reaching the forest floor. This lack of sunlight often results in thick understories of shade-tolerant shrubs or seedlings, with not much of an herbaceous layer to speak of. This type of forest provides great habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including forest interior dwelling birds, but not for all wildlife. Unlike the dense, shaded characteristics of closed-canopy forests, the structure of open-canopy forests is comprised of mature trees spaced widely apart, allowing desirable tree seedlings and herbaceous species to cover the sunlit forest floor, while young forests, commonly referred to as early successional habitats, are open herbaceous areas filled with grasses, forbs, shrubs, wildflowers, and perhaps young tree seedlings, with very few mature trees present. The diversity of shrubs and plants found in open-canopy and young forests provides much-needed food and cover for a multitude of wildlife species, including pollinators. Smyth conveys that “in order to maximize the diversity of both plants and animals, more open-canopy forests and young forests - forest types that are only created by disturbance - are needed throughout the landscape.”

New ferns and blooming trilliums after 4 controlled burns. Photo by Jean Lorber, TNC

The lack of regular fire events in the Allegheny Highlands is also compromising the future generations of mature, fire-adapted oak and pine forests that currently dominate the area’s landscape.  A great number of wildlife species of conservation concern have adapted to live with fire as part of the oak and pine ecosystems on which they depend; without fire-created habitats, some populations decline and can face extinction. Alarmingly, studies of tree seedlings in the forest understories show that without fire, the next generation of forestland - nearly 90% of future mature trees - will be made up of mainly maples and poplars, which aren’t nearly as ecologically significant as the oaks and pines they will replace. The seedlings of undesirable species have been able to outcompete oak and pine seedlings in the absence of fire because they thrive in the shade of closed-canopy forests. When fire is part of the ecosystem, oaks and pines, with their thick, fire-resistant bark, can out-compete the less desirable, thin-barked species. As explained by Jean Lorber, Conservation Scientist for the AHP in this video clip, “Oak seedlings focus their energy on developing strong root systems while maples concentrate their energy on growing aboveground. So, when fires burn through seedlings in an area, oak seedlings - due to their much larger root systems - are able to quickly resprout and surpass the maple seedlings, winning the race to the treetops” and their place in the next generation forest.









Oak seedlings flourishing after a prescribed fire. Photo by Amanda Duren, AMJV/ABC

The AHP team’s highly-trained staff, including Laurel Schablein, Program Conservation Coordinator, and Nikole Simmons, Restoration Coordinator, have been collaborating with multiple partners for over a decade to reintroduce disturbance to the landscape by way of prescribed fire (paired with timber stand thinning). The well-planned and controlled (not to mention technologically savvy - check out this video of a drone being used for ignition) prescribed fires are effective tools for restoring structural diversity across the landscape as well as managing invasive and undesirable species, thus increasing the chance that diverse forest types of oaks and pines - and the wildlife species that depend on them - don’t disappear from the region. As an added benefit, the prescribed fires reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floors, which can prevent severe, out-of-control wildfires from occurring in the future - fires that could scorch deeply into the forest floor, kill existing desirable trees, and put local residents and firefighters at great risk. The AHP’s prescribed fires to date have ranged in size from 150 acres, burned in 2008 during the program’s first cooperative burn, to 7,400 acres burned in 2022 - the largest TNC/USFS cooperative prescribed burn east of the Mississippi! Furthermore, TNC established an official multi-agency partnership, designed as a collaborative effort to re-establish fire on a significant portion of public lands in western Virginia, called the Central Appalachian Fire Learning Network (FLN). Through this network - which now spans lands in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky - federal, state, and private land managers share knowledge and resources and work together to conduct regular burns on 130,000 acres of forest, carry out prescribed fire monitoring and research, and facilitate interagency fire training opportunities.


The Central Appalachians Fire Learning Network is a multi-agency partnership that spans multiple states and is a cooperative effort to re-establish fire on the landscape. Through the network, federal, state, and private land managers share knowledge and resources and work together to conduct regular burns, carry out prescribed fire monitoring and research, and facilitate interagency fire training opportunities.

The AHP team doesn’t stop with planning and implementing conservation practices; they also carry out intensive monitoring ventures for both plants and birds on TNC preserves and surrounding lands in order to continually build an understanding of how landscape-scale prescribed burning affects local flora and fauna over time. Monitoring helps the team to assess their work, making sure their goals were achieved as well as analyzing whether or not any management can be improved to achieve more of the desired results in the future. Sometimes this monitoring is carried out by the specialized use of drones, but the majority of the monitoring takes place by traversing the beautiful, though not always hospitable, terrain on foot. In 2011, Schablein and Simmons began a pre- and post-fire avian and vegetative monitoring effort, spending the past decade collecting data. This monitoring program spans 18,000 acres of land owned by TNC and the George Washington (GWNF)/Jefferson National Forests, making it one of the largest monitoring efforts east of the Mississippi. Results from this decade-long study, which show an increase in bird species and numbers of individuals as well as an increase in vegetative diversity since the 2011 burns, were recently published in the Journal of Forest and Ecology Management in collaboration with Dana Morin at Mississippi State University.



A spring-time forest canopy, leafing out after three prescribed burns. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service and courtesy of TNC

All of the forest restoration planning, implementation, and monitoring that the AHP accomplishes is undeniably impressive, but there’s more! They also actively participate in community conservation discussions, working with groups such as the GWNF Stakeholders Group - a partnership of stakeholders with diverse viewpoints, such as wilderness advocates and timber companies. The AHP helps groups to determine common goals, build public support, and collaborate in finding the best way forward to achieve more forest restoration across public lands in the Allegheny Highlands.

Folks that live in the western Virginia area - or those who stop by for a visit - should consider volunteering with the AHP, hitting the area trails, and/or trying their hand at geocaching at Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. Regardless of the chosen activities, visitors should be sure to take in the beauty of the special place; recognize the hard work and generosity of donors that make much of TNC’s land protection possible; and appreciate the work and dedication that the staff of the AHP continuously pours into protecting and restoring TNC preserves and surrounding lands in what is such a biologically significant and picturesque region.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Virginia at nature.org/virginia and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Landowner Highlight: Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club

Deep in AMJV’s Virginia Highlands Focal Landscape you can find Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club, a private hunting club with over 4,000 acres. They are a non-profit organization with 20 members, including a 5-member Wildlife Management Committee. Members of Boiling Springs are acutely aware of how enhancing habitat for deer, turkey, and grouse overlaps with the needs of other birds and pollinators as well. They are active stewards who have sought assistance from multiple experts to protect the health of their land. Funding from The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay allowed them to work with a forester to start a forest management plan for their property. They have also enrolled in Working Lands for Wildlife’s Golden-winged Warbler Initiative to improve early successional habitat.


The Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club recently enrolled in the Working Lands for Wildlife’s Golden-winged Warbler Initiative to improve early successional habitat. Photo by Agami Photo Agency and courtesy of Shutterstock and ABC

In 2021, AMJV connected with Boiling Springs to supplement their ongoing management through a $6,000 grant to improve early successional habitat. AMJV staffers Amanda Duren and Liz Brewer met with club president, Jim Cook, and chair of the Wildlife Management Committee, Allen Peacock, to tour their woodlands and begin developing management recommendations. Projects that helped control invasive plants, converted food plots to old fields, and engaged current club members in conservation were of particular interest.

The Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club has shown immense dedication to enhancing habitat for all wildlife and engaging their members in conservation. AMJV is excited to highlight their hard work in the Virginia Highlands.



A close-up of Whip-poor-will eggs spotted during a point count on Boiling Springs woodlands. Whip-poor-wills are declining in Appalachia due to loss of habitat. Photo courtesy of Claire Nemes



Funding Opportunities

 
The AMJV team posts upcoming funding opportunities (and more!) on our Slack Workspace as we learn of them. To stay up-to-date and/or to share funding opportunities that you might hear of with us and other AMJV partners, please join our AMJV Slack Workspace and follow the #funding-opportunities channel!

 

Save the Date: Upcoming Meetings, Workshops, and Webinars

 
The PIF Science Meeting (virtual) will be held July 12th - 14th, 2022. Contact Becky Keller at bkeller@abcbirds.org for more information.

The AMJV Technical Committee will be meeting in person (with possible virtual option) on August 2nd & 3rd, 2022 in Chattanooga, TN. Many thanks to Rick Huffines and the rest of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT) staff for hosting! The meeting will include a field trip and dinner/social on August 2nd at the TRGT. Contact Becky Keller at bkeller@abcbirds.org for more information.

The U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Committee will be meeting August 9th & 10th, 2022 in the Washington, D.C. area. All are welcome to attend either virtually or in person. Please visit the NABCI website to register separately for both meeting days. If you require any accommodations for this hybrid meeting, please contact Susana at smateos@fishwildlife.org.

The 76th Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) will be held in Charleston, WV on October 23th - 26th, 2022. The Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is a forum for the exchange of ideas and critical information regarding the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources primarily in the southeast. The conference attracts over 500 representatives from state and federal agencies, citizens' organizations, universities, private wildlife research groups, fisheries and wildlife scientists, agency enforcement personnel, and other natural resource-related organizations. Save the date on your calendar, and then check the SEAFWA website for updates about registration and lodging information (not currently posted).

The AMJV Fall Management Board Meeting will take place on November 29th - December 1st, 2022 in Blacksburg, VA (tentatively in-person with possible virtual option; 1st day for travel, 2nd day full-day meeting, 3rd day half-day meeting and travel home).  Note this is a different date than initially discussed at the end of the management board meeting based on additional feedback from board members. Contact Todd Fearer at tfearer@abcbirds.org for more information.

The AMJV team posts upcoming meetings (and more!) on our Slack Workspace as we learn of them. To stay up-to-date and/or to share upcoming meeting details that you might hear of with us and other AMJV partners, please join our AMJV Slack Workspace and follow the #upcoming-meetings channel!  

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