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Thousands of ha of cleared wetlands are being reforested annually in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). Despite the expansive and long-term impacts of reforestation on the biological communities of the MAV, there is generally a lack of landscape level planning in its implementation. To address this deficiency we used raster-based digital data to assess the value of forest restoration to migratory landbirds for each ha within the MAV. Raster themes were developed that reflected distance from 3 existing forest cover parameters: (1) extant forest, (2) contiguous forest patches between 1,012 and 40,000 ha, and (3) forest cores with contiguous area <5,200 ha. Forest core habitat was any forest habitat >1 km from an agricultural, urban, or pastoral edge. Two additional raster themes were developed that combined information on the proportion of forest cover and average size of forest patches, respectively, within landscapes of 50,000, 100,000, 150,000, and 200,000 ha. Data from these 5 themes were amalgamated into a single raster using a weighting system that gave increased emphasis to existing forest cores, larger forest patches, and moderately forested landscapes while deemphasizing reforestation near small or isolated forest fragments and within largely agricultural landscapes. This amalgamated raster was then modified by the geographic location of historical forest cover and the current extent of public land ownership to assign a reforestation priority score to each ha in the MAV. However, because reforestation is not required on areas with extant forest cover and because restoration is unlikely on areas of open water and urban communities, these lands were not assigned a reforestation priority score. These spatially explicit reforestation priority scores were used to simulate reforestation of 368,000 ha (5%) of the highest priority lands in the MAV. Targeting restoration to these high priority areas resulted in a 54% increase in forest core - an area of forest core that exceeded the area of simulated reforestation. Bird Conservation Regions, developed within the framework of the Partners in Flight: Mississippi Alluvial Valley Bird Conservation Plan, encompassed a large proportion (circa 70%) of the area with highest priority for reforestation. Similarly, lands with high reforestation priority often were enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program.
Additional Publication Details
Landscape level reforestation priorities for forest breeding landbirds in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley