Nature’s notebook

Revised N.C. wildlife plan targets species, habitats

Migrating Tennessee warbler is banded in 2015 photo. Photo: Ruth Ann Grissom

North Carolina abounds with diverse wildlife and habitats. And while various funding sources aim to protect game species like wild turkey, white-tailed deer and sport fish, less funding has been available for nongame species that aren’t hunted or fished, such as migratory songbirds and aquatic mussels.

But 15 years ago, a federal law was passed creating a Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program and offering state wildlife grants – federal matching funds to protect species and prevent them from becoming endangered, or to help keep common animals common.

Last year North Carolina finished a comprehensive revision of its 2005 Wildlife Action Plan, a plan “to help conserve and enhance the state’s full array of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.” Each state must have such a plan to be eligible for the federal matching funds. The plan was developed in cooperation with multiple partners, including federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and various other stakeholders. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission received approval last March from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for the comprehensive revision.

The second version of the state wildlife plan results from collaborative efforts of federal and state agencies, local organizations and residents. A best-practices working group was created to help improve and standardize these plans across the states, and North Carolina incorporated many of the best practices in this new revision.

One change is that the new state wildlife plan incorporates the effects of climate change on wildlife.

One example of how the wildlife plan brought positive results involves the Carolina northern flying squirrels.

The new plan has eight required elements:

  1. Distribution and abundance of species of wildlife.
  2. Descriptions of locations and relative condition of key habitats and community types.
  3. Descriptions of problems and priority research and survey efforts needed.
  4. Descriptions of conservation actions proposed to conserve species and habitats.
  5. Monitoring plans and adaptation of conservation actions.
  6. Procedures for reviewing the plan at intervals not to exceed 10 years.
  7. Plans for coordinating the development, implementation, review, and revision of the plan with federal, state, and local agencies and Indian tribes.
  8. Documentation of public participation during development and implementation.

The first wildlife action plan helped guide wildlife conservation efforts. North Carolina has 61 wildlife and plant species listed for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Those endangered species are also listed on the N.C. list, which includes a total of 109 species considered endangered or threatened.  

One example of how the state’s wildlife action plan brought positive conservation results involves the Carolina northern flying squirrels. The 2005 state wildlife plan identified the need for surveys to determine the squirrels’ distribution, abundance and status. Monitoring and genetic research were also needed.

This squirrel species is threatened by habitat loss of the spruce-fir forest from logging and development and from the balsam and hemlock woolly adelgid insects that are killing the trees the squirrels need. In addition, the Cherohala Skyway corridor was a problem. The highway is a 40-mile scenic byway opened in 1996 connecting Robbinsville, N.C., with Tellico Plains, Tenn., through the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina and the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Because the road was too wide for the squirrels to glide across, it hampered the genetic mixing of different squirrel populations. Replanting areas with red spruce and installing artificial crossing structures across the road helped restore habitat and reconnect the squirrel populations.

According to the Smoky Mountain News, partnering agencies were the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the N.C. Department of Transportation, Duke Energy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service. Tall utility poles were installed on either side of the highway to serve as launching and landing pads for the squirrels, who typically glide through a forest from tree to tree. See a video of a squirrel using one of the poles. from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

That’s just one example of how actions can be taken to help protect and restore species. One goal of the wildlife plans is to keep common animals common, so they don’t become threatened or endangered. This ensures they will be around for future generations and can continue to play important roles in the ecosystems in which they live.

Download the 2015 report here: