Forestry in Action

Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan: Managing Habitat for Birds

Plan revisions should prioritize ecological restoration practices that benefit birds.

Sometimes protecting land for birds isn’t enough. For certain species, like the declining Golden-winged Warbler, active land management and restoration is needed to make sure birds have the habitat they need to build nests and raise their chicks.

In the mountains of western North Carolina, this often means working to ensure there is enough young, re-growing forestland for species that depend on this kind of habitat, known as early successional forest. This shrubby growth on the edges of forests and fields provides nesting sites and all of the baby bird food that support specialized bird species.

As the U.S. Forest Service prepares to release a revised plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests this fall, Audubon North Carolina will be paying close attention to how much early successional habitat is called for in the plan and how it’s balanced with quality interior forest habitat important for other bird species.

We know that while birds that dwell in young forest need our help, we also do not want creation of these habitats to have a negative impact on species that require mature forest in large blocks, birds like Blackburnian Warblers and Wood Thrushes.

Historically, the Forest Service has managed the forest by dividing land into two categories—land was either classified as suitable for timber harvesting or not. Early indications are that the revised plan will take a more holistic approach to land categorization, distinguishing land that is closer to human development, land in the backcountry, and the area that falls in between. It’s the latter category—the land in between—that will likely be designated for more early successional habitat management.

Audubon has worked closely with partners to provide recommendations to the Forest Service that call for a moderate amount of this habitat in the plan, enough to support birds and other wildlife in need but not so much that it takes away from other important habitat. Audubon also wants to see timber harvesting directed toward areas where forest restoration can benefit birds, while at the same time improving ecosystems for the whole forest.

Learn more about the forest plan revision process here. If you have any questions, stay tuned for future informational calls with our staff or reach out to Audubon North Carolina Director of Conservation Curtis Smalling at

Read more on the forest plan:

Protecting Land for Birds

Balancing Birds and Recreation

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