Examples of Planning & Design


Forest Breeding Bird Reforestation Decision Support Model (FBBDSM)

Scientists working collaboratively with Partners in Flight have developed a GIS-based reforestation decision support model for use as a planning tool to improve fragmented landscapes and increase population nesting success for forest-wetland-dependent songbirds of greatest conservation concern in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV).  A brief summary of this Forest Breeding Bird Reforestation Decision Support Model (FBBDSM) is as follows:

It spatially prioritizes forest restoration to reduce forest fragmentation and increase the area of forest core, defined as interior forest greater than 0.62 mile from a “hostile” edge.

Its primary objective is to increase the number of forest patches that harbor more than 5,000 acres of forest core; its secondary objective is to increase the number and area of forest cores greater than 12,500 acres.

It targets restoration within local within local (6.2 miles) landscapes to achieve at least 60 percent or more forest cover.

It emphasizes restoration of high-site (well-drained) bottomland hardwood forests where their restoration would not increase forest fragmentation.

Specifically, the FBBDSM prioritizes every “reforestable” acre in the MAV relative to its potential to restore forest-interior breeding bird carrying capacity through an increase in interior forest habitat (i.e., forested areas buffered from land cover attractive to cowbirds and predators).  The decision-support model is a scientific approach – it is biologically based, unbiased, and repeatable.  In brief, the approach compared the reforestation efficiency, measured as the gain in interior forested habitat, of randomly reforesting and equal area under 10 scenarios.  The table below indicates that the reforestation efficiency in reforesting the highest 10-percent priorities (approximately 1.5 million acres) throughout the MAV would yield almost a 50-percent gain in interior forested habitat.  In contrast, randomly reforesting 1.5 million acres throughout the MAV would increase interior forest, and thus the biological carrying capacity, by less than 3 percent.  The comparative analyses provide natural resource planners with a biological measure of expected outcomes in breeding bird productivity for every acre reforested .

Reforestation Priority

Gain in Forest Core
(With Equal Reforested Area)

Top 10% (highest priority)


















91-100% (lowest priority)










WGCPO Open PINE Decision Support Tool

General Approach
Knowing the amount of suitable habitat needed to support a viable population is only part of the information required for effective conservation.  Specific site-scale conditions (understory structure, stand age, etc.) and landscape context (patch size, nature of surrounding landscape) are critical components of carrying capacity.  The decision support tool (DST) described herein addresses important landscape factors.  The objective for the open pine DST is to provide information helpful in placing open pine management (enhancement, prescribed fire, etc.) and protection activities in locations where they have the greatest chance of supporting viable populations of priority bird species.  Due to unresolved issues regarding the parameters for northern bobwhite, the DST was created using information from the remaining three umbrella species:  red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrow, and brown-headed nuthatch.

Model Development
We assumed both the evergreen forest and mixed (evergreen and deciduous) forest, upon application of an appropriate management regime (e.g., prescribed fire and thinning), represent suitable habitat for priority open pine bird species.  We identified the area and location of these forests using 2001 National Land Cover data.  However, we assumed all forests in floodplains (bottomlands) were not suitable for open pine, and these areas were removed using a combination of a floodplain map (LMVJV unpublished data) for the lower WGCPO and the floodplain class of the land position layer from the HSI assessment (Tirpak et al. 2009b) for the upper WGCPO.  For each of the three open pine umbrella species, we:

Conducted patch analysis and removed all patches of forest that could not support at least one pair (Table 9).

Buffered (i.e., enlarged) each patch by ½ the dispersal distance for that species (Table 9). 

When the buffer of a patch intersected the buffer of another patch, we assume proximity permitted exchange of breeding individuals (i.e., dispersal) among patches.

Performed a patch analysis on the buffered areas of the original patches to identify suitably interconnected patches (i.e., patches among which dispersal was likely).

Analyzed each cluster of interconnected patches to determine total area of potential habitat.

Exclusive of any patches of habitat incapable of supporting a breeding pair.

Clusters of interconnected patches that contained sufficient potential habitat to support a minimum viable population (MVP) were designated as such and all the patches in the cluster were identified as potential targets for open pine management.

The individual patches (forest habitat) inside the clusters identified above were then ranked based on their capability (ha) to support a MVP.  Such that for each species, values ranged from a minimum of the area required to support one pair (RCWO=50, BHNU=3, BACS=3 ha) to a maximum of the area required to support one MVP (RCWO=1000, BHNU=84, BACS=150)

Patches that were large enough to support more than one MVP were given a value of the area required to support one MVP for that species.  This gave all patches large enough to support at least one MVP the same priority in the model.

The ranked values of the patches were then normalized to change the units from hectares to % of MVP for each species.  This was done by dividing the values (ha) by the area required to support an MVP for that species.

This resulted in values ranging from 0% (non habitat or not enough habitat to support one pair) to 100% (enough habitat to support 100% or more of an MVP) for each individual species model.

We combined the 3 individual species models by summing these percentages such that the final output ranged from 0 (not able to contribute to the support of any species) and 300 (able, with management, to contribute to the support of an MVP for all 3 umbrella species).


Table 9.  Demographic parameters for the four umbrella species used to develop decision support tool targeting appropriate management of pine and mixed pine-hardwood forest based on 2001 National Land Cover depiction of these habitats.


Density (ha/pair)

Minimum viable population
(no. of pair)

Area of suitable habitat required (ha)

Dispersal potential (km)

Red-cockaded woodpecker





Northern bobwhite





Brown-headed nuthatch





Bachman’s sparrow






Figure 10.  Three-species (Bachman’s sparrow, Brown-headed nuthatch, red-cockaded woodpecker) decision support model depicting priorities for management of open pine habitat for priority bird species in the West Gulf Coastal Plains/Ouachitas Bird Conservation Region.