Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in North Carolina

The partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s primary mechanism for delivering voluntary on-the-ground habitat improvement projects on private lands for the benefit of Federal trust species. Biologists provide technical and financial assistance to landowners who want to restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitats on their property. Partners for Fish and Wildlife projects may include improving habitat for species such as migratory birds, anadromous or migratory fish, endangered or threatened species, or any other declining or imperiled species.

Habitats of Special Concern
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in North Carolina assists with the restoration and enhancement of every ecosystem in the State that benefits Federal trust resources. Wetland systems such as mountain bogs, spring seeps, rivers, streams, flood plains, bottomland hardwoods, pocosins, Carolina bays, and marshes are all candidates for restoration through Partners for Fish and Wildlife. In addition, other non-wetland habitat types in North Carolina are important to trust resources such as longleaf pine, upland hardwoods, and native grasslands. Some Partners projects are educational in nature, providing the necessary materials and opportunities for children and adults to learn the significance of the State’s natural resources. Most of the Partners projects have occurred in the following four habitat types:

Forested Wetlands - bottomland hardwoods, non-alluvial swamp forest, pocosins
Bottomland hardwoods, occurring along the brown water streams of North Carolina, receive rich layers of soil during frequent over bank flooding events and thus are some of our most productive forested wetlands. Important tree species are the many wetland oaks, sugarberry, elms, green ash, red maple, box elder, and sweetgum; with water tupelo and cypress in the lower, wetter zones.

Non-alluvial swamp forests occur in broad "flats" with poorly defined drainage systems. They do not receive "over bank" flooding, but are primarily flooded by rainfall. These forested wetlands, along with pocosins, once covered thousands of square miles of eastern North Carolina. Dominant tree species are black gum, loblolly bay, red maple, sweet gum, cypress, and Atlantic white cedar. This assemblage of forested wetland types are important for high priority species such as cerulean warbler, Swainson’s warbler, prothonotary warbler, black-throated green warbler, American woodcock, yellow-throated warbler, red wolf, and black bear.

Longleaf Pine
The longleaf pine ecosystem that once covered 92 million acres of the southeastern United States from Texas to Maryland included over 9 million acres of central and eastern North Carolina.

Remnants of longleaf pine in North Carolina still play a vital role for many wildlife species. This naturally diverse ecosystem supports several federally listed species including red-cockaded woodpeckers, Micheaux’s sumac, American chaffseed, and rough-leaf loosestrife. It is also an important habitat for migratory birds such as Bachman’s sparrow, pine warbler, and brown-headed nuthatch.

Piedmont Prairies
From 1540 to 1750, European explorers and traders in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina reported many prairie-like openings ranging in size up to 25 miles across. Historical and meteorological evidence suggests that these prairies were primarily the products of Native American burning and agriculture. Piedmont prairies, also known as grasslands, early successional habitat, savannahs, or xeric hardpan forests contain a whole suite of native bird and rare plant species such as Schweinitz’s sunflower and smooth coneflower (both federally-listed endangered species), Georgia aster, loggerhead shrike, savannah sparrow, field sparrow, prairie warbler, Henslow’s sparrow, and Northern bobwhite.

Streams and Riparian Areas
Steams and surrounding riparian areas are rich and diverse in North Carolina. They perform many ecological functions such as regulating stream flow, storing water, removing harmful materials, and providing habitat for aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Steams and riparian areas in North Carolina are essential habitat for many imperiled species such as the federally-listed Appalachian elktoe mussel, littlewing pearlymussel, spotfin chub, and Virginia spiraea.  Many other Federal species of concern depend on water quality and the condition of streams for their existence.

Large scale land clearing in North Carolina has created many problems for wildlife and water quality, especially in the coastal region. These problems include complete destruction of forested wetlands (i.e., conversion to agriculture), drainage and conversion to loblolly pine plantations, drainage and destructive logging techniques, release of nutrients and mercury due to oxidation of organic soils, and habitat fragmentation. In a study on wetland losses done by the USFWS National Wetland Inventory, North Carolina stood out among all southeastern states with the highest acreage of net wetland loss, an estimated 1.2 million acres. Nearly all the losses were from forested and scrub/shrub wetlands and were concentrated in the "Coastal Flats" region of North Carolina.

Threats to the longleaf pine ecosystem and Piedmont prairies are the exclusion of fire, urban sprawl, development, and conversion to loblolly pine plantations. Fire, an essential element in the management and maintenance of the longleaf pine ecosystem and native prairies, has been largely squelched due to a lack of understanding and education about its importance and difficulty of burning at the urban interface.

Riparian (streamside) areas have been abused and misused for decades. Timbering and various agricultural practices have traditionally taken place in riparian habitat. Negative effects include sedimentation from bank sloughing, livestock tromping, and de-vegetation; over-eutrification from livestock access, fertilizers used in near-stream row cropping, and lack of filtering buffers; pollution from multiple sources; and various developmental activities. All of these activities contribute silt, nutrients, and pollutants to streams, thus affecting their living inhabitants.

Conservation Strategies
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in collaboration with stakeholders, including the Service, developed the North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for fish and wildlife conservation statewide. The Plan originated with the purpose of securing funding for state fish and wildlife agencies to take preventative actions that help keep rare species from becoming endangered and keep common species common. The Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program recognizes the priority species and habitats identified in the Plan and will continue to work cooperatively with the State and other partners to carry out the Plan whose success will be measured by cultivation of lasting conservation partnerships and by the promise of fish and wildlife resources for future North Carolinians. The North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan is available at:

Forested Wetlands
Restoring forested wetlands begins by restoring the hydro-period (water access and duration). This is accomplished by plugging drainage canals with earthen plugs and/or installing water control structures. Sometimes dikes have to be built to allow site specific restoration without re-flooding neighboring lands. Though variable, the average cost to restore the water to a site is between $10 and $100 per acre. The next step is reforestation. Reforestation costs range from $125 to $400 per acre, with the largest variable being site preparation for planting.

Longleaf Pine
Restoration and enhancement of longleaf pine is relatively easy. The reintroduction of fire, controlling invasive hardwood species, and planting the longleaf pine trees is a straight forward process with known successful results. Even reintroduction of native understory herbaceous plants is becoming a reality. Restoration costs vary widely since some sites only need the reintroduction of fire while others require mechanical site preparation or the removal of hardwood trees by hand. Costs range from $30 to $175 per acre.

Prairie restoration can be accomplished by applying management techniques such as burning or mowing, thinning overstory vegetation and re-planting or transplanting native species. Depending on the site and need, restoration costs range between $30 (just burning) and $450/acre (full restoration with herbicides, local seeds, equipment, and labor).

Stream Restoration
Streams that are unstable or degraded can be restored using natural channel design and bioengineering techniques which help reestablish stream channel stability and restore habitat for aquatic species. Costs to plan and implement such a restoration can range from $30 to $275/linear foot of stream. Techniques such as riparian fencing, tree plantings, streambank stabilization, livestock stream crossings, and alternate watering sources (e.g., water tanks, ponds) are less expensive and easier to implement and can have a significant positive impact.

One-on-one conversations with the landowner is a critical component of the restoration strategy as landowners must first understand how their habitat type is designed to function naturally, the benefits it has in its natural state, and how we can accomplish restoration economically and in a way that is compatible with farming operations. Demonstration sites, interpretive materials, and publications are often used for education.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program began in the early 1990's by North Carolina’s National Wildlife Refuges where wetlands were developed for migratory birds. The program evolved to include many habitat types throughout the State and many creative restoration techniques.

  • Nearly 15,000 acres of uplands and wetlands restored
  • 30 miles of streams restored
  • Over 230 projects accomplished under the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Future Needs
Opportunities abound for restoration in North Carolina.

  • Forested wetland restoration is needed on approximately 580,000 acres.
  • There are approximately 100,000 acres of degraded longleaf pine that need of restoration and another 100,000 acres could be replanted to longleaf pine habitat.
  • There is potential to restore 1,000 acres to native Piedmont prairies.
  • About 25,000 miles of all North Carolina steams and streambanks are in need of restoration.
  • In addition to the featured habitat types, there are over 1 million acres of restoration and enhancement needs for other wetland types such as Carolina bays and mountain bogs and upland types such as hardwood forests.
  • The need for an educational component associated with these projects grows with the growing human population.

Contact Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in North Carolina

John Ann Shearer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
551-F Pylon Drive
P.O. Box 33726
Raleigh, North Carolina  27636
Phone: (919) 856-4520 ext. 17
Fax: (919) 856-4556


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