An ecoregional context for forest management on national wildlife refuges of the Upper Midwest, USA

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To facilitate forest planning and management on National Wildlife Refuges, we synthesized multiple data sources to describe land ownership patterns, land cover, landscape pattern, and changes in forest composition for four ecoregions and their associated refuges of the Upper Midwest. We related observed patterns to ecological processes important for forest conservation and restoration, with specific attention to refuge patterns of importance for forest landbirds of conservation priority. The large amount of public land within the ecoregions (31-80%) suggests that opportunities exist for coarse and meso-scale approaches to conserving and restoring ecological processes affecting the refuges, particularly historical fire regimes. Forests dominate both ecoregions and refuges, but refuge forest patches are generally larger and more aggregated than in associated ecoregions. Broadleaf taxa have increased in dominance in the ecoregions and displaced fire-dependent taxa such as pine (Pinus spp.) and other coniferous species; these changes in forest composition have likely also affected refuge forests. Despite compositional changes, larger forest patches on refuges suggests that they may provide better habitat for area-sensitive forest landbirds of mature, compositionally diverse forests than surrounding lands if management continues to promote increased patch size. We reason that although fine-scale research and monitoring for species of conservation priority is important, broad scale (ecoregional) assessments provide crucial context for effective forest and wildlife management in protected areas. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

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Environmental Management