Wildlands for Wildlife

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The American Forests Wildlands for Wildlife initiative focuses on seven forest ecosystems, with the goal of accelerating conservation of critical wildlife habitat. American Forests selected these priority regions because they are areas of significant biodiversity value, where we have a long history of restoration work and where making a five- to 10-year commitment can play a transformational role in ecosystem recovery.

Southeastern U.S.

Historically, longleaf pine forests extended across 90 million acres in the Southeastern U.S. Today, less than three percent remain, and what remains is threatened by decades-long fire suppression policies. Without fire and its subsequent benefits, longleaf seeds won’t grow and the pines are eventually, replaced by other species. These changes have presented a challenge to the gopher tortoise and nearly 600 other rare or at-risk species dependent on this forest type, such as the red cockaded woodpecker and reticulated flatwoods salamander.

Focal Wildlife Species: Gopher tortoise
Forest Type: Longleaf pine ecosystem
Regional Themes: Endangered species, biodiversity and water

Central Appalachians

Forests in the Central Appalachians have a long and ancient history, and the region’s unique, biodiverse forest ecosystems support a truly unique cast of wildlife species, such as the rare West Virginia northern flying squirrel, an amazing array of land snails and the endangered Cheat Mountain salamander. Although globally significant, harboring more salamander species than anywhere else in the world, the Appalachians also have a history of extracting natural resources such as timber and coal, which have impacted forest health. In fact, there are currently more than one million acres of abandoned mineland where, without restoration, trees can’t grow.

Focal Wildlife Species: West Virginia northern flying squirrel
Forest Type: Red spruce ecosystem, oak systems in lowlands
Regional Themes: Biodiversity, carbon storage, rural communities

Northern Great Lakes

The Northern Great Lakes region contains a diverse mix of northern forest types, notably jack and red pine, which is one of the least-common forest types and also disproportionately important to the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. Each spring, the rare songbird leaves its wintering grounds in the Bahamas and migrates to Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, Wisconsin and the province of Ontario. Historically, fire was critical to creating early successional pine habitat, but modern fire suppression policies interrupted this cycle and have degraded Kirtland’s warbler habitat. Thanks to our forest restoration efforts, Kirtland’s warbler numbers are up, but it remains the most endangered warbler in the U.S.

Focal Wildlife Species: Kirtland’s warbler
Forest Type: Jack pine and red pine ecosystem
Regional Themes: Endangered species, recreation and wildfire

Hawaiian Islands

For tens of millions of years, the Hawaiian Islands have been isolated by the Pacific Ocean, resulting in incredible biodiversity, including a stunning cast of Hawaiian honeycreepers that have evolved to use a variety of habitats and plants including the ʻōhiʻa lehua. Sadly, Hawaiʻi has lost half of its native forests and that, coupled with the extensive distribution of non-native and invasive species, has wreaked havoc on Hawaiian forests. The state also leads the nation in extinctions and federally listed endangered species.

Focal Wildlife Species: Hawaiian honeycreepers and other endangered forest birds
Forest Type: ʻŌhiʻa lehua ecosystem
Regional Themes: Biodiversity, endangered species and water

Northern Rockies and Cascades

The Northern Rockies and Cascades are home to some of North America’s most ecologically intact forests, including whitebark pine ecosystems, which support iconic wildlife such as the threatened grizzly bear. But whitebark pines are sustaining heavy losses from disease, pests and fire suppression policies, with all three exacerbated by climate change. Whitebark pine, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, is a vital food source to grizzly bears that need the nutrients to survive winter hibernation.

Focal Wildlife Species: Grizzly bear
Forest Type: Whitebark pine ecosystem
Regional Themes: Endangered species, recreation and water

Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada Mountains are home to one of the world’s most biodiverse conifer forests, an ecosystem that is critical to many wildlife species including the increasingly rare Pacific fisher. In the past six years alone, roughly 100 million trees have succumbed to drought, pests and disease, and wildfire. Severe wildfires have left vast sections of forest without a seed source for miles and making natural regeneration difficult.

Focal Wildlife Species: Pacific fisher
Forest Type: Sugar pine ecosystem, including a mix of other conifers
Regional Themes: Wildfire, water and rural economies

Lower Rio Grande Valley

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is the fertile, river delta for the Rio Grande River. The dense Texas thornscrub vegetation (Tamaulipan thornscrub) in the area supports a variety of wildlife and plant species. But within the last century, 95 percent of native Texas thornscrub forest has been lost to agriculture and development, devastating the endangered ocelot, a Texas thornscrub habitat specialist. There are around 50 known ocelots in the Lower Rio Grande Valley as of 2016 and the cat’s recovery will ultimately depend on the success of habitat restoration efforts.

Focal Wildlife Species: Ocelot
Forest Type: Texas thornscrub ecosystem
Regional Themes: Endangered species, biodiversity and recreation

Contribute to the Initiative

This year, we need you to help us reach our goal of planting more than 2 million trees here in the U.S. through our programs like the Wildlands for Wildlife initiative. But this will only be possible with the help of supporters like you. Contribute to American Forests and help us provide critical habitat to these threatened and endangered species.


July 19th, 2018|Blog, Recreation|

Read about photographer Brian Kelley's adventures as he travels around the U.S. to photograph champion trees.