Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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34 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2014 n the 1800s, thousands of settlers set out with families, wagons, and possessions on an uncertain but hopeful west- ward trek across southeastern North America. Many came from the coastal plains and the Appalachians and traveled into the interior highlands of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, searching for a better life. On those perilous journeys, they experienced vast ex- panses of park-like pine woodlands that echoed with the tooting notes of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, a species that used both old- growth bottomland swamps and old, open pine woodlands. Those pine woodland ecosystems evolved with frequent fre, which encouraged a lush understory of native grasses and wild- fowers of amazing richness and diversity. That understory and its web of life were vital for many bird species. Natural fres left the trees spaced so widely that early settlers could easily drive wagons among them. That, unfortunately, also led to widespread clear-cut- ting and, by the 1930s, those pine woodlands were nearly gone. For example, of the 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest that once existed, slightly more than four million remain today, and only a tiny portion of that is considered old growth. Much of the coastal plain of the southeastern U.S., with its deeper soils, was then converted to agriculture. Meanwhile, to the north, pines in the uplands grew on shallower, rockier soils, and land use there shifted more to widespread free-range grazing. Later, as fres were suppressed to favor the recovery of forests and woodlands, pine forests largely gave way to oak and other hardwoods, and Pine Woodlands Restoring the Woodlands of the Past for the Birds of the Future Prescribed fre in Florida's Blackwater State Forest. Photo © Vernon Compton I 5-Pine Woodlands2.indd 34 5/22/14 7:54 PM

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