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National Award Honors research leading to habitat restoration for people, birds

In Missouri, USDA Forest Service science was instrumental in habitat restoration, culminating in the reintroduction of a songbird that had disappeared from the state a century ago. In Baltimore, research is helping parishioners and community volunteers restore a forest that is important to public and ecological health, community bonds, and climate resilience in an under-served neighborhood. Both projects were among a handful of recipients of the Forest Service’s 2021 National “Chief’s Awards.” 

Credit: Photo by: Bill Shewbridge, UMBC New Media Studio.

In Missouri, USDA Forest Service science was instrumental in habitat restoration, culminating in the reintroduction of a songbird that had disappeared from the state a century ago. In Baltimore, research is helping parishioners and community volunteers restore a forest that is important to public and ecological health, community bonds, and climate resilience in an under-served neighborhood. Both projects were among a handful of recipients of the Forest Service’s 2021 National “Chief’s Awards.” 

“These awards reflect the difference the Northern Research Station is making in our forests and communities through our unique science role in the most forested and the most populated region of the nation,” said Cynthia West, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “These two projects exemplify what we try to achieve — improve the sustainability of forests and the species that depend on them, and improve the lives of people who live in urban areas through nature.”

The Forest Service’s 2021 Chief’s Awards were announced on January, 13 and included 19 projects that advance the agency’s four goals: Sustain our Nation’s Forests and Grasslands, Deliver Benefits to the Public, Apply Knowledge Globally, and Excel as a High Performing Agency. Northern Research Station scientists are part of two of the project honored this year.

Situated in the heart of the Beechfield and Irvington neighborhoods in southwest Baltimore City, Maryland, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship Church owns a parcel of forest land with a stream, known as the Stillmeadow Community PeacePark & Forest. The forest has lost ash trees to the invasive emerald ash borer and has been further degraded by invasive vegetation. Multiple branches of the Forest Service, including scientists at the Northern Research Station’s Urban Field Stations, collaborated to assist the community in restoring the forest as a green space.

“People and nature are inextricably linked,” said Morgan Grove, who leads the team of scientists working with Stillmeadow Community Church. “What we learn in the restoration of Stillmeadow PeacePark and Forest will help us devise strategies that can be used nationwide to develop partnerships like this one, leading to healthier communities and natural areas.”

In Missouri, a collaboration among the Northern Research Station and the Eastern and  Southern Regions of the USDA Forest Service, along with other partners, was  recognized for decades of work that culminated in the restoration of critical habitat and the reintroduction of a native bird that had been extinct in the state for a century. Scientists based in the Northern Research Station’s Columbia, Mo., research unit collaborated with the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and the Mark Twain National Forest and other partners to restore shortleaf pine-oak woodlands, the primary habitat of the Brown-headed Nuthatch. Restoration of woodlands was a major goal of the Mark Twain National Forest Plan, and progress in the restoration was advanced by the Missouri Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration Project, part of the national Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program developed by the Forest Service.

The reintroduction of Brown-headed Nuthatch began in 2020 when a team that included the Missouri Department of Conservation and the University of Missouri translocated birds from the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas to the Mark Twain National Forest. The team moved 46 nuthatches to the Mark Twain National Forest in the summer of 2020 and documented their survival and nesting the following spring. In August 2021, they successfully translocated an additional 56 birds and will monitor them under a proposed extension of the Missouri Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration Project.

“This project demonstrates the value of collaboration and the value of working incrementally to achieve restoration goals,” said Frank Thompson, a research wildlife biologist based in the Northern Research Station’s lab in Columbia, Mo. “I am very proud of the outcome, and I am even more proud of the science and management collaboration behind habitat restoration and the Brown-headed Nuthatch reintroduction.”

A complete list of Chief’s Award projects and recording of the presentation will be released in the coming days.


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