Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: North Carolina
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

North Carolina Project

Assessing the effects of the National Park Service prescribed fire program on the breeding bird community in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

September 2011 - November 2014


Participating Agencies

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The southwestern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM), with its dry pine and oak-hickory forests, steep slopes drained by small tumbling creeks, scattered old home sites, wetlands, and extensive fire history, provides diverse habitat for a variety of birds. Many of these species are restricted to habitats declining elsewhere and limited in the park by past fire management practices. Prescribed fire has been introduced in the past 20 years, as well as a policy allowing naturally caused fires to burn. The resulting mosaic of mature trees, dense regeneration and open savannah-like forest has changed the landscape significantly. This area was the last known habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker; several other bird species whose habitat is improved by fire are likely to be present. Characterizing the habitat and identifying breeding birds will guide the park in fire management decisions and help improve habitat. This project will provide fundamental information to evaluate possible reintroduction of red-cockaded woodpeckers and target habitat management for other bird species of concern.