Wildlife Management in a Changing Appalachian Landscape

Symposium
ROOM: HCCC, Room 22
SESSION NUMBER: 85
 
Characterized as America’s first and final “frontier”, the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountains span from New York to Alabama. This region contains a substantial proportion of public lands in the eastern USA, a wide array of ecosystems with globally significant levels of temperate biodiversity, support large working landscapes providing forestry, energy and agricultural outputs. Although the most heavily forested landscape in North America, 200+ years of post-European settlement, resource extraction, variable conservation efforts, climate change sensitivity and highly dichotomized human population have and will continue to present management challenges. Our primary goal of this symposium is to enlighten attendees on the impending issues of changing Appalachian ecosystems and the challenges and opportunities these changes create for wildlife management.

12:50PM Forest Ownership and Landowner Attitudes in West Virginia
  Sheldon Owen; John Edwards; David McGill; Ben Spong
In West Virginia, approximately 251,000 private individuals and enterprises own 87 percent of the State’s forest land. Representing the largest ownership category, family forest owners hold 7.2 million acres, accounting for 60 percent of the State’s forest land. The National Woodland Owner Survey found that there are 243,000 family forest owners in West Virginia. This category is represented by individuals, farmers, small family corporations, and partnerships. Eighty-two percent of these owners hold fewer than 50 acres. West Virginia is the 3rd most forested state with about 79% of its land covered in forest. Additionally, West Virginia forests are getting older and acreage of large diameter trees is increasing. Lack of disturbance, closing canopies, and an ever-present white-tailed deer population have had significant impacts on forest regeneration and vegetative structure. We will discuss both the current limitations facing landowners concerning small-scale forest management, and also landowner attitudes towards habitat management and harvest of white-tailed deer. In addition, we will discuss recent initiatives to promote early successional vegetation in an effort to increase pollinator habitat, particularly that of the Monarch butterfly.
1:10PM Fire History and Vegetation Dynamics of the Appalachian Mountains Reconstructed From Proxy Records
  Charles W. Lafon; Adam T. Naito; Henri D. Grissino-Mayer; Sally P. Horn; Thomas A. Waldrop
The importance of fire in shaping Appalachian vegetation has become increasingly apparent over recent decades. Of particular importance for wildlife are the declines in oak (Quercus) and pine (Pinus) forests, which in the near-exclusion of fire are being replaced by fire-sensitive mesophytic vegetation. These vegetation changes imply that Appalachian vegetation had developed under a history of burning before the fire-exclusion era, a possibility that has motivated investigations of Appalachian fire history using proxy evidence. Here we synthesize those investigations to obtain an up-to-date portrayal of Appalachian fire history based on proxy evidence, including dendroecological and charcoal data. Taken together, these proxy records portray frequent burning in the past. Fire-scar data from oak- and pine-dominated landscapes indicate that fires burned frequently, generally at intervals of less than 10 years, before exclusion. At study sites with long fire-scar records that cover multiple land use phases, fires generally burned at these high frequencies from before European settlement until the beginning of fire exclusion in the early- to mid-twentieth century, after which fire frequency declined sharply. These findings are supported by radiocarbon-dated soil and sediment charcoal, which indicates that fire has shaped Appalachian vegetation for many centuries to millennia. Dendroecological data on the age structure of xerophytic stands show that oak and pine species regenerated under the frequent burning of the past, while other species generally did not. However, fire exclusion has enabled maples (Acer) and other competitive mesophytic species to expand from fire-sheltered sites onto dry slopes that formerly harbored pyrogenic vegetation. These changes in vegetation composition and tree species distribution have likely altered the suitability of Appalachian landscapes for many wildlife species.
1:30PM The Role of Fire and Other Management for Wildlife in Hardwood Forests: A Research Overview
  Cathryn H. Greenberg; Christopher E. Moorman
For millennia, humans have had a major influence on the diversity, distribution, and abundance of many disturbance-dependent wildlife species by creating, maintaining, or greatly expanding specific, unique types of early successional and young forest plant communities. Fire in particular was used by Native Americans, and later European settlers to clear for cultivation and settlements or create habitats for game; field abandonment led to development of old fields and forests in different stages of succession. In this talk we give an overview of research results addressing effects of prescribed fire, repeated burns, fire severity, and regeneration harvests on breeding birds, herpetofauna, and food resources (such as native fleshy fruits) for wildlife in southern Appalachian hardwood forests. Reliance on natural (e.g., non-anthropogenic) disturbances alone to create the multiple variants of early successional conditions required by different disturbance-dependent species may not serve as the most productive guide for conserving diverse wildlife communities in hardwood forests.
1:50PM Unconventional Shale Development: Challenges and Opportunities for Wildlife Management
  John Edwards; Shawn Grushecky; Sheldon Owen
Unconventional shale development has ushered in a new era of natural gas production in parts of the Appalachian Region since the first well was drilled in 2003. Horizontal drilling and improved stimulation techniques have unlocked enormous reserves of natural gas in the Appalachian Basin. Gross withdrawals of natural gas increased 17-fold in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia from 2005 to 2016. Associated with the increasing numbers of new wells is a corresponding need for infrastructure to gather and transport the commercial products to local and regional markets. Although the ecological footprint of an operational well may be relatively small (~3.6 ha) on the landscape the potential for 1000s of miles of new gathering and transport right-of-way’s (ROW) to influence wildlife habitat is substantial. Construction of gas line ROWs often results in the creation of early successional habitat. This is especially true where ROWs traverse forested habitats. The creation of extensive, linear ROWs through forested habitat has been criticized because of its fragmenting effect in contiguous habitats. Although this criticism is valid for some species – especially forest interior birds – it is not a universal detriment. Many species require both forested and early successional cover types to meet their habitat requirements. The interspersion of early successional cover types juxtaposed to forested cover is highly beneficial to some species. We will discuss opportunities for enhancing wildlife habitat during disturbance and restoration associated with unconventional shale development.
2:10PM River Otters and Fishers in Appalachia: Decline and Recovery of Two Charismatic Mesocarnivores
  Tom Serfass
The historic ranges of the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) and fisher (Pekania pennanti) included suitable habitats throughout substantial portions of Appalachia. River otters occupied all major drainage systems in both eastern and western sides of the Appalachian Mountain Range, whereas fishers occupied forested portions of the Appalachian Mountains through North Carolina, with the range possibly extending to northern Georgia. Both species suffered severe declines throughout substantial portions of the Appalachian Region by various anthropogenic-induced causes, primarily the synergy of overtrapping and habitat degradation during the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. These species subsequently have been the focus of substantial conservation attention, including implementation of successful reintroduction projects. I review the historical distribution, factors contributing to population declines and recoveries, and current management status of river otters and fishers throughout the Appalachians. I devote considerable attention to factors related to the design and implementation of reintroduction projects, conditions that have facilitated and impeded expansion of native and reintroduced populations, and issues pertaining to expansion of recreational trapping following recovery of some populations. Information for my presentation is derived from a literature review (both scientific and popular [e.g., publications by state agencies and private conservation organizations, and web sites]), written and interview surveys of state-agency furbearer biologists, and my personal experiences through coordinating reintroduction projects for river otters and fishers in Pennsylvania.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Mountaintop Removal Mining and Stream Salamanders: Searching for Mechanisms Responsible for Population Declines
  Steven J. Price; Simon J. Bonner; Jacob M. Hutton; Andrea N. Drayer; Brenee’ L. Muncy; Sara Beth Freytag; Christopher D. Barton
Across central Appalachia, land-use changes arising from mountaintop removal coal mining and valley filling (MTR-VF) represent a pervasive influence on wildlife populations and their habitats. Stream salamanders reach exceptionally high population densities and drive numerous ecosystem processes in Appalachian low-order streams. Previous research has documented reductions in salamander occupancy, abundance and species richness in streams impacted by MTR-VF relative to reference locations. We explore two hypotheses responsible for salamander population declines in MTR landscapes: (1) changes to land-use reduce colonization and persistence rates within MTR streams and (2) changes to water chemistry in MTR streams affect salamander abundance and diets. To test our first hypothesis, we conducted repeat count surveys over three consecutive years in MTR and reference (i.e., forested) landscapes in southeastern Kentucky. We found that most species and life stages exhibited reduced colonization and persistence rates. Across the entire salamander assemblage, the mean colonization and persistence rates in MTR landscapes were 0.17 (95% CI = 0.06-0.37) and 0.70 (95% CI = 0.45-0.92) respectively, whereas the colonization and persistence rates in reference landscapes were 0.82 (95% CI = 0.44-0.97) and 0.95 (95% CI = 0.81-0.98). To test our second hypothesis, we examined salamander abundance and diet composition across a specific conductivity (SC) gradient. As SC increased, salamander abundance declined consistently across species and life stages. Diet composition was also correlated with SC; for example, aquatic prey consumed, total prey volume, and body condition decreased as SC increased. Although these two studies indicate mechanisms responsible for population declines are multifaceted, the similarity in species’ responses to MTR suggests that land-use management may benefit the entire assemblage. For example, reforestation and soil reconstruction could restore habitat conditions in both terrestrial and stream environments required by salamanders.
3:40PM Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, and the Forestry Reclamation Approach for Successful Reforestation of Mined Lands
  Mary Beth Adams
Surface mining of coal has left millions of hectares of drastically disturbed lands in the Appalachian Mountain region of the eastern United States. Many of these lands were originally covered by productive hardwood forests that provided a wide range of ecosystem services and products. The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), a coalition of scientists, citizens, the coal industry, and government, has been involved with reforestation of mined lands in Appalachia since 2004. Through an adaptive learning process, research scientists have studied productive forests on older mine sites, used those conclusions to conduct research on how best to establish forest vegetation on recent mines, and identified mine reclamation practices that result in successful reforestation. The Forest Reclamation Approach (FRA) is the outcome of this research. Highly productive forestland can be created on reclaimed mine lands under existing laws and regulations by using the FRA. Scientists and mine regulators, working collaboratively, have communicated the FRA to the coal industry and to regulatory enforcement personnel. Today, the FRA is applied routinely by many coal mining firms, and thousands of hectares of mined lands have been reclaimed to restore productive mine soils and planted with native forest trees. I discuss application of FRA along with implications for wildlife habitat and the important partnerships that have evolved to improve habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
4:00PM Twenty Years of Central Appalachian Bat Research – What Have We Learned and Where Are We Going?
  W. Mark Ford; Joshua Johnson; Alexander Silvis; John Edwards; Michael Muthersbaugh; Austin Lauren; Karen Powers; Nicholas Kalen; Elaine Barr; Richard Reynolds; Jesse Delacruz; Sheldon Owen; Sabrina Deeley
With the listing of the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) in the 1970s and the known presence of Priority II-IV hibernacula in the central Appalachians, regional bat research and monitoring was limited to hibernacula counts and general surveys to prove absence of female maternity colonies prior to timber harvest, prescribed burning and surface mining, April-October. Though females were thought to migrate from the region after hibernation, by the 1990s, occasional documentation of females during the summer resulted in increased survey requirements and scrutiny of forest management activities. Accordingly, a many-fold increase in mist-netting, along with improved of acoustic capabilities led to tremendous insights into Indiana bat foraging and day-roosting ecology and how forest habitat alteration was a negative or positive influence. Concomitant to this, similar research on the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), subsequently listed due to White-nose Syndrome (WNS) impacts, as the “prototypical” mixed mesophytic forest interior bat commenced. Both species have been shown to be disturbance-dependent in the region, albeit at different spatial and temporal scales, with cutting and burning as useful tools when carefully applied to improve day-roost and foraging conditions. Post-WNS declines of these species along with other Myotine species and accompanying mortality in migratory bat species, i.e., eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) and hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) due to increased wind energy production have made bats and managing their habitat to minimize these existential a priority conservation issue in the central Appalachians. Findings, trends, and management recommendations will be discussed.
4:20PM Spruce-Fir in the Central and Southern Appalachians – Endemic Oddity Or Conservation Opportunity?
  Shane C. Jones; Greg Nowacki; Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy; Corinne Diggins; Christine Kelly; W Mark Ford; James Rentch; Benjamin Rhodes
Higher elevations in the central Appalachians (> 900 m) and southern Appalachians (> 1,400 m) provide a montane extension of the boreal forest. Dominated by red spruce (Picea rubens) in the central Appalachians and red spruce-Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) in the southern Appalachians, these forest provide southern habitat for numerous disjunct and/or endemic wildlife species such as the Cheat Mountain salamander (Plethodon nettingi), saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and fisher (Martes pennanti). Greatly reduced by industrial logging and subsequent wildfires in the early 20th Century and further degraded by atmospheric deposition, invasive insect attack, coal extraction and recreational development, current extent is 10-20% and 40-50% of former distribution in the central and southern Appalachians, respectively. Following assessments of current condition and extent, often using the northern flying squirrel as the impetus and driver, efforts to improve extant forest condition and or restore where they formerly occurred using active management is now occurring. These have included active planting, herbicide control of competing hardwood regeneration, mineland restoration and acceleration of ongoing gap-phase processes and “femelschlag” group shelterwood approaches. Moreover the establishment of both the Central Appalachian and Southern Appalachian Red Spruce Restoration Initiatives have allowed for effective multi-agency, cross-discipline approaches. Findings, trends and management recommendations will be discussed.
4:40PM The Colosseum of deer management: the predator-rich, closed-canopy forests of the North Georgia Mountains
  Gino J. D’Angelo; Andrew R. Little; Adam C. Edge; Cheyenne J. Yates; Charlie H. Killmaster; Kristina L. Johannsen; David A. Osborn; Karl V. Miller
Reductions in timber harvests on National Forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in recent years has resulted in increasedcoverage of mature forests and little heterogeneity of habitats. Although oaks are common in the overstory and acorn abundance in the Southern Appalachians has been shown to be an important driver of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations, acorns are available only seasonally and vary in abundance annually. Insufficient sunlight reaching the forest floor and scarcity of young forests limits browse and soft mast available for deer to meet their nutritional needs during spring and summer. Also, undeveloped forest understories lack cover for deer and other wildlife. Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) documented an 85% decline in the harvest of male deer from 1979-2015 on 8 Wildlife Management Areas in the North Georgia Mountains. DNR substantially limited the harvest of female deer, but populations continued to decline. As densities decreased, the condition of deer improved, suggesting that habitat conditions have not caused declines in fecundity. Therefore, factors other than habitat may be contributing to population declines. Simultaneously, predator populations increased in North Georgia, including black bears (Ursus americanus) and coyotes (Canis latrans). Therefore, insufficient recruitment of fawns due to predation is suspected as a reason for population declines. Similar trends in habitats, deer populations, and predator populations have been observed in the Appalachian regions of other Southeastern states. In 2018, we initiated a study in the North Georgia Mountains to investigate: 1) survival and cause-specific mortality of deer fawns, 2) home ranges and habitat selection of deer, and 3) influence of mast availability, feral pigs, and predators on space-use by deer. Understanding the potential influences of deer habitat use on population vital rates would improve management of deer populations and their habitats to aid population recovery.

 
Organizers: Andrew R. Little, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE; Michael J. Cherry, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA; W. Mark Ford, Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Blacksburg, VA; Gino J. D’Angelo, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Karl V. Miller, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
 
Supported by: TWS Hunting, Trapping and Conservation Working Group; Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Symposium
Location: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland Date: October 11, 2018 Time: 12:50 pm - 5:00 pm