Conservation Through Partnership: Collaboration, Cooperation and Trust for Managing At-Risk Species on Private Timberlands in the Southeastern U.S.

Symposium

SESSION NUMBER: 39

Symposia will be available on-demand on their scheduled date, then again at the conclusion of the conference.

 
Habitat loss for at-risk and federally listed species remains one of the top threats to their continued persistence across the U.S. For forest-dwelling species, about 180 million hectares of this vital commodity is held in private forests which are often, managed for their valuable timber and fiber resources. Over 60% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act find their homes on these privately owned and actively managed forest landscapes. The trust and collaboration between landowners, state and federal agencies, and conservation stakeholders is vital to ensure these populations continue to persist and thrive. The National Alliance of Forest Owners Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) is a new way to approach the challenge of conserving species in working forests through collaborative research and management of habitat for threatened and endangered species. WCI brings together private landowners and multiple private and public stakeholders to explore the relationship between forest management and conservation of at-risk and listed species, with the aim of increasing landowner understanding of species conservation needs and improve the appreciation of managed forests by the public and conservation stakeholders. This symposium will examine the origins and history of the WCI, examine early successes, and discuss the opportunities and challenges going forward from the various perspectives of participating organizations.

Conservation Without Conflict: The Basis, Origins, and Early Successes of the Wildlife Conservation Initiative
Jimmy Bullock
One of the greatest areas of risk for large privately owned working forests is having forest management or harvest activities modified or restricted by decisions made under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With court ordered listing decision evaluations and petitions for listing continually being submitted, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will evaluate and make decisions on approximately 500 species by the end of 2023. Member companies of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) are working proactively with the USFWS, state wildlife agencies, and other partners to position actively managed forests as contributing the the conservation of at-risk species, particularly species that require habitat conditions found in young forest, open canopy or riparian and aquatic systems. This collaboration is based on mutual trust and the desire of all parties to build a lasting partnership that transcends administrations, personnel changes, and time. Significant progress toward a new paradigm for species conservation on private working forests has been achieved.and lasting change is already being demonstrated through this work, called the NAFO Wildlife Conservation Initiative. Most importantly, the WCI is being touted as a foundation pillar for a national collaborative conservation initiative “Conservation without Conflict”. This presentation will discuss the founding and evolution of the WCI including early challenges and successes and will conclude with an introspective look at the WCI as a foundational cornerstone for “Conservation without Conflict” as the future model for species conservation on private working lands across the United States.
The Need for Private Forests to Achieve Conservation Success in the Southeastern United States
Leopoldo Miranda
The southeastern United States is home to a vast diversity of fish and wildlife, including many that are considered threatened, endangered, or at-risk. Given that more than 90% of the region is held in private ownership and that most species have some portion of their range on private lands, partnerships with private landowners are vital to achieve the conservation successes defined by recovering and sustaining these wildlife populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to leverage its expertise and resources in concert with other conservation partners to effectively engage small and large forest landowners alike from various sectors (notably the forest products sector) to manage pine, bottomland hardwood, and aquatic systems in the region. By working together, we are able to address our multiple goals collaboratively and maintain sustainable fish and wildlife populations while also managing forests for timber production and other commodities and uses. These partnerships are at the heart of past successes related to waterfowl, black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker and others and are the cornerstone of our current work on gopher tortoise and watershed improvements to benefit our high aquatic species diversity. Challenges lay ahead – notably the rapid development of the region and impacts to disturbance and management regimes (e.g., prescribed fire); however, in partnership with private forest landowners we will overcome those as well.
Management of Federally-Listed Wildlife by the Private Landowners: Challenges and Opportunities
Craig Czarnecki
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecological systems which they depend on. The ESA protects listed species with the law’s ultimate goal to recover populations so they no longer need the protection of ESA status. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has a number of tools, some longstanding and others more contemporary, to help recover species. Perhaps more importantly, the Service continues to develop a culture of sharing data, tools, and expertise towards shared goals and actions. Challenges remain, but so do solutions and opportunities. Joining up with the National Alliance of Forest Owners and others via the Wildlife Conservation Initiative demonstrates how sharing conservation and landowner goals and identifying the places where we can work together can bring us to a shared understanding and better outcomes for all involved.
Using At-Risk Species Data from Private Forests to Inform Policy: A Case Study with Gopher Tortoises
Darren A. Miller; Angela L. Larsen-Gray; Philip R. Weatherford; Stephen P. Prisley
The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a keystone species in the southeastern U.S. that requires sandy soils within open canopy pine (Pinus spp.) forests. Gopher tortoises are listed as federally threatened in the western portion of their range and are being considered for listing throughout their entire range. Private forests comprise 87% of forest cover in the southeastern U.S. and encompass the gopher tortoise range. These private forests are critical for conservation of gopher tortoises and other pine-adapted species. To help ensure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the best available scientific information for a listing decision, we used Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data (n = 1,338), questionnaires, research/survey results, and other information, to assess gopher tortoise presence on lands owned or managed by larger forest products and investment organizations represented by a geo-database (2.56 million ha within gopher tortoise range). We determined that 44.1% (1.12 million ha) of forests within the database were comprised of soils suitable for gopher tortoises and that, at any given time, approximately 47.2% (1.21 million ha) of forestland in the database were in an open canopy pine condition. We documented a minimum of 10,499 gopher tortoise occurrences within 107 counties on private, working forests. These results demonstrate that private, working forests contribute to conservation of gopher tortoises. Importantly, a recent model of gopher tortoise habitat failed to correctly classify over 96% of known gopher tortoise locations on private land, emphasizing the importance of data such as these in understanding distribution of at-risk species on private forests. It is imperative to facilitate collaboration among private landowners, federal and state agencies, universities, and other stakeholders to document and incorporate contributions of private, working forests for at-risk species conservation.
The Role of Certification in Providing Assurances of Well-Managed Forests for Conserving At-Risk Species on Private Timberlands
Darren J.H. Sleep
Sustainably managed forest ecosystems contribute to a wide range of important ecological values, including 1) habitat and buffer lands for high priority species; 2) unique or at-risk ecosystems; and 3) large forest landscapes and their associated ecosystem services, such as timber product supply, pollination services, carbon sequestration, and clean water. Well-managed forests on private lands provide significant habitat area for a range of species, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. Recent work by NatureServe demonstrated that Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Certified Lands often include confirmed occurrences of critically imperiled or other species of concern. Further, models of predicted habitat for key species indicate that these forests provide significant area of habitat for several declining or imperiled species. Reliable data collection and research combined with effective third-party verification of best practices and continually improving standards is necessary to provide assurances that private timberlands continue to provide these values to society and the environment. In addition to various criteria and indicators related to threatened and endangered species, biodiversity, and other environmental values, SFI certification requires active forest and wildlife-related research, along with government stakeholder engagement. The Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) combines federal and state agency involvement and private forest management together in a collaborative and research-focused effort to better understand the role of sustainably managed and SFI certified lands in maintaining forests and the species that depend on them over the long term. As a result, SFI certification provides both incentive for such collaborative initiatives, as well as assurances to the public and marketplace that forestry practices on these private lands are benefiting wildlife and society.

 
Organizers: Darren Sleep, The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Ottawa, ON; Darren Miller, NCASI, Starkville, MS; Jimmy Bullock, Resource Management Service (RMS) LLC, Bogue Chitto, MS
 
Supported by: The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, NCASI, Resource Management Service

Symposium
Location: Virtual Date: October 1, 2020 Time: -