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Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture
Open Pine Decision Support Tool (OPDST)

A Decision Support Tool to Guide the Restoration of Open Pine Habitats in the West Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachita Mountains (WGCPO)

Open pine forest systems are typified by savanna or woodland conditions, where 80 percent or more of the trees are pine and canopy cover ranges from 25 to 60 percent, allowing most surface plants to receive sunlight at least part of the day. Historically, this community type was very common across the West Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachita Mountains (WGCPO), having been maintained by frequent fires every two to five years. These fires, often caused by lightening, removed loose surface litter such as fallen needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches along with grasses, shrubs, tree seedlings and downed logs. Fire suppression over the last 50 years has allowed many of these communities to succeed into mature pine forests with more and larger trees, developing closed canopies that prevent sunlight from getting through. As a result, open pine systems now comprise only a small portion of the WGCPO.

Pine savannas and woodlands with low canopy cover (sunlight reaches the ground), low basal area (trees widely spaced), and a well-developed herbaceous understory (non-woody plants such as grasses) provide important habitat for many priority bird species. Local and regional population declines for several of these species are attributable to the removal of regular fire from these systems and the resulting change in forest structure and loss of habitat. Pine woodlands managed with frequent prescribed burning at two to five year intervals respond rapidly and have high potential to provide suitable habitats for these birds.

The Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC and the NWRC are working together to leverage their capabilities and bring new tools such as the Open Pine Decision Support Tool (OPDST) to the conservation community. Through the use of the OPDST, conservation practitioners across the WGCPO are better equipped to understand how to strategically invest in restoration and management of open pine habitats which support viable populations of priority bird species.

The tool was created using habitat requirements of three priority bird species that rely on open pine systems: red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrow, and brown-headed nuthatch. Details on the creation of the OPDST are available in the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture WGCPO Landbird Working Group’s WGCPO Open Pine Landbird Plan. Through an intuitive mapping interface, users are exposed to the Open Pine Bird Conservation Priority (OPBCP) layer which represents the relative value of areas across the WGCPO region for conservation of open pine bird species. Clicking on the map will display the normalized minimum viable population data for the red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrow, and brown-headed nuthatch species.



Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative working with the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture

Decision Support Tool

Click on map image to enter tool.
The OPDST application is best viewed using an updated browser.  Users of older browsers will notice some features are not available and/or significantly reduced performance.


  • Conner, R.N., and J.G. Dickson, 1997, Relationships between bird communities and forest age, structure, species composition and fragmentation in the West Gulf Coastal Plain: Texas Journal of Science, v. 49, no. 3 Supplement, p. 123-138.
  • Cram, D.S., R.E. Masters, F.S. Guthery, D.M. Engle, and W.G. Montague, 2002, Northern Bobwhite Population and Habitat Response to Pine-Grassland Restoration: The Journal of Wildlife Management, v. 66, no. 4, p. 1031-1039.
  • Grossman, D.H., D. Faber-Langendoen, A.S. Weakley, M. Anderson, P. Bourgeron, R. Crawford, K. Goodin, S. Landaal, K. Mezler, K.D. Patterson, M. Pyne, M. Reid, and L. Sneddon, 1998, International Classification of ecological communities: terrestrial vegetation of the United States, Volume I, The National Vegetation Classification System: development, status, and applications: The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia, USA, 126 p.
  • Hunter, W.C., D.A. Buehler, R.A. Canterbury, J.L. Confer, and P.B. Hamel, 2001, Conservation of disturbance-dependent birds in eastern North America: Wildlife Society Bulletin, v. 29, no. 2, p. 440-455.
  • Outcalt, K.W., 1997, Status of the longleaf pine forests of the West Gulf Coastal Plain: Texas Journal of Science, v. 49, no. 3 Supplement, p. 5-12.
  • *Tirpak, J.M., D.T. Jones-Farrand, F.R. Thompson, III, D.J. Twedt, and W.B. Uihlein, III, 2009, Multiscale habitat suitability index models for priority landbirds in the Central hardwoods and West Gulf Coastal Plain/Ouachitas Bird Conservation Regions: U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report NRS-49, Northern Research Station, Newton Square, Pennsylvania, USA, 195 p.
    *OPDST data overlay is from the work of the LMVJV. GTR NRS-49 details these findings.

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Page Last Modified: Thursday, July 07, 2016