The historical area of bottomland hardwood forest in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley has been reduced by >75%. Agricultural production was the primary motivator for deforestation; hence, clearing deliberately targeted higher and drier sites. Remaining forests are highly fragmented and hydrologically altered, with larger forest fragments subject to greater inundation, which has negatively affected many forest bird populations. We developed a spatially explicit decision support model, based on a Partners in Flight plan for forest bird conservation, that prioritizes forest restoration to reduce forest fragmentation and increase the area of forest core (interior forest >1 km from 'hostile' edge). Our primary objective was to increase the number of forest patches that harbor >2000 ha of forest core, but we also sought to increase the number and area of forest cores >5000 ha. Concurrently, we targeted restoration within local (320 km2) landscapes to achieve >60% forest cover. Finally, we emphasized restoration of higher-elevation bottomland hardwood forests in areas where restoration would not increase forest fragmentation. Reforestation of 10% of restorable land in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (approximately 880,000 ha) targeted at priorities established by this decision support model resulted in approximately 824,000 ha of new forest core. This is more than 32 times the amount of core forest added through reforestation of randomly located fields (approximately 25,000 ha). The total area of forest core (1.6 million ha) that resulted from targeted restoration exceeded habitat objectives identified in the Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plan and approached the area of forest core present in the 1950s.
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A spatially explicit decision support model for restoration of forest bird habitat