The Interior Highlands region of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma once supported vast expanses of shortleaf pine-bluestem woodlands, as well as mixed stands of pine-oak and oak-pine which were maintained by frequent fires. Over the past century 53% of these open pine stands have been significantly altered due to forest structural changes caused by eliminating fire from the ecosystem and conversion to other agricultural uses. This caused a significant decline in several priority bird species including the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, Prairie Warbler, Whip-poor-will and federally endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, which all rely on open pine forest stands with a diverse grass and forb understory. In 2011 the CHJV formed a regional partnership with the goal of sharing knowledge about the restoration and management of shortleaf or pine-oak ecosystems across the Ozark, Boston, and Ouachita Mountains (see: Interior Highlands Partnership and Shortleaf Pine Desired Future Conditions). To date, there are roughly 500,000 acres of ecosystem restoration targeted in key landscapes on public lands alone, with large amounts of funding coming from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). This effort now has become a part of the range-wide Shortleaf Pine Restoration Initiative (Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan PDF).
For an overview of the CFLRP project in the Missouri Ozarks, and the complexities related to both the social and economic impacts of a project of this size, see Restoration of Pine-Oak Woodlands in MO. For the results of research on priority bird response to the restoration efforts, see Roach 2018 and 2019 and an overview of the return of the brown-headed nuthatch to Missouri.