A spatial analysis of forest management and its contribution to maintaining the extent of shrubland habitat in southern New England, United States

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Conservation organizations in the northeastern United States (US) recommend forest clearcutting to create shrubland habitat, which is required by many wildlife species with declining populations. The planning of habitat management programs is hampered by a lack of information on the current extent of shrubland habitat and the current rate of forest clearcutting that creates shrubland habitat. We addressed these information gaps by using a combination of automated and manual approaches to determine the extent and spatial configuration of shrubland habitat and recent forest clearcuts. We focused on the state of Rhode Island because (a) it is representative of the northeastern US in terms of the prevalence of private ownership of forests, and the ongoing decline in the populations of many shrubland wildlife species; (b) federal, state and private conservation groups are actively promoting clearcuts to create shrubland habitat; (c) many state-wide GIS databases are available; and (d) the spatial extent of the state made our results both generalizable and politically relevant. Our fine-scale mapping allowed a detailed analysis of shrubland distribution in conjunction with other available GIS layers that facilitates identification of priority areas for habitat management. We found that the extent of upland shrubland in non-coastal areas is decreasing by at least 1.5% annually. Considering the lack of consensus about conservation targets for the amount of shrubland, we propose that conservation organizations attempt to stabilize rather than expand the extent of shrubland habitat. This approach would provide an opportunity to assess whether the current extent of shrubland is sufficient to maintain reduced but stable wildlife populations that require this habitat. We propose a coordinated forest management program with targets for increased forest management on conservation lands. We found that the average patch size of shrubland created by recent clearcuts is large enough for most shrubland bird species, but too small for the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), which has been proposed for threatened and endangered status. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Forest Ecology and Management