Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett surveys areas for habitat restoration.

Red Spruce tree being planted

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative awarded SAHC a $20,000 grant to manage globally endangered red spruce–Fraser fir “sky islands” and rapidly declining shortleaf pine habitats in the southern Appalachians. These habitats support some of the rarest species in the region, including Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blackburnian Warbler, Red Crossbill, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Northern Bobwhite.

“Red spruce-Fraser fir forests, endemic to the Southern Appalachians, are one of the top two most endangered ecosystems in the nation,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “These conifer forests are home to multiple federal and state listed rare species, including at least four avian species listed as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by the NC Wildlife Action Plan. The Northern Saw-whet Owl and Appalachian “type” of Red Crossbill are unique to these high elevation forests.  Spruce forests also support the federally endangered Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and Spruce-Fir Moss Spider.”

newly planted red spruce

Using this grant, SAHC will actively restore roughly 15 acres of red spruce-Fraser fir habitat on conserved preserves in the Roan Highlands, using low impact forestry practices like planting and “spruce release” to increase numbers of cone-bearing trees. We will cooperate with local researchers to examine the impacts of different ground cover treatments on spruce seedlings. Bird species on the sites will be recorded using eBird. As a part of this project SAHC will also host field trips and workshops focused on red spruce restoration. We hope that this project will serve as a teaching tool for private landowners and conservation practitioners interested in the restoration of rare and declining conifer habitats.

Our sincere thanks to the Cornell Land Trust Small Grant Program, a program of the Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative formed in 2013 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Land Trust Alliance. The grant program  supports strategic conservation for birds on private lands across the country. Loss of habitat is one of the most severe threats that birds face, and land trusts like SAHC contribute greatly to protecting and managing important habitats.