Habitat Conservation Recommendations

Conserve and Manage Habitats

Scientific research has revealed certain conservation thresholds, or minimum habitat area requirements, that are needed to sustain priority species and habitats near built areas. Click on each tab for specific science-based habitat conservation and habitat management recommendations. We recommend that habitats mapped in the Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat Assessment, part of the Conservation Data for Green Growth, be considered as priority for implementing these conservation recommendations.  See Section 3 of the GGT Handbook for more information on how to use the Conservation Data for Green Growth to identify the priority wildlife habitats below.

See Section 3 of the Handbook for details

Forest dwelling priority wildlife that are of conservation concern require the following areas of forest in order to persist in developing landscapes in the future. 

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recommends that communities attempt to conserve forest areas of the sizes listed below by identifying large areas of forest and working with the Wildlife Commission, land trusts and developers to connect large areas of contiguous forests across different parcels. 



Southwest Mountains: This is one of the only regions in our state where Cerulean warblers can be found.  Cerulean warblers need approximately 1,750 acres of unfragmented forest in order to remain in the landscape.  These birds have disappeared from mountain landscapes that do not contain forested areas of this size. 

Other Mountains Counties: The Appalachians are home to an incredible diversity of neotropical migrant songbirds.  Many of these bird species are sensitive to fragmentation of forest habitats and require 500 acres of forest in order to remain in developing areas. 



Northern Piedmont: Many priority species present in the northern Piedmont can persist in the landscape if forest blocks of at least 75 acres are conserved.  Conservation is most assured when 50 percent of the tree canopy is conserved within 1.5 miles of 75 acre forest habitats.

Southern Piedmont (Uwharrie Mountains): Black-throated green warblers and worm eating warblers are present in this area of the state and require 500 acres of upland and bottomland (riparian) forest to remain in developing areas.



Coastal Plain and Sandhills Longleaf Pine Forests: The longleaf pine forest ecosystem is one of the most unique and endangered forest types in the world with only 5% remaining in the historic range.  Just as the rain forest depends on rain, this 'fire forest' depends on periodic fire.  Priority species that are threatened due to loss of longleaf pine forests, such as the Carolina gopher frog and red-cockaded woodpecker, need longleaf pine forests of 2,000 acres in size that are managed with prescribed fire.  We recommend that local governments and developers work with the Wildlife Commission and local land trusts to identify and conserve these habitats across multiple parcels.  Longleaf pine forests need to be managed with prescribed fire every few years in order to serve as habitat for longleaf pine forest species.


Other Coastal Plain Forests: We recommend that upland and bottomland forests be conserved in blocks of 500 acres, connected among different parcels, in order to conserve priority wildlife on the Coastal Plain.






Habitat Management Recommendations
  • Maintain a well developed understory of native plants to provide wildlife food, nest sites and cover. 
  • Retain snags and brush piles. If there is a safety concern with a snag, do not cut the tree to its base, but cut to a height consistent with safety.
  • Maintain large trees to provide a continuous supply of potential roost trees for bats.
  • Promote a varied and diverse vegetative structure that is consistent with the native forest type, including small-scale tree cutting to create small canopy gaps. Remove invasive, exotic vegetation when practical.
  • If timber is to be harvested from a forest tract, selective thinning and small patch cuts are recommended. Avoid harvesting hardwoods unless hardwood removal will benefit wildlife, such as in the case of maintaining pine forests.
  • Promote reforestation of breaks between disconnected forest tracts, either through natural succession or through planting of native trees.

Grasslands and shrublands are 'early successional' habitats that will succeed to become forests if they are not mowed or burned.  A number of early successional wildlife species are declining due to habitat fragmentation, loss and lack of habitat management.  Many of these species require large areas of open land and mowing schedules outside of the nesting and winter foraging seasons, to remain in the landscape. 

Most grassland and shrubland is not mapped because most of these areas are managed for agricultural uses.  

In agricultural areas pastures and fallow fields of at least 20 acres are likely to support grassland or shrubland species.  We recommend conservation of these habitats as much as possible.

In urban areas grassland and shrubland habitat is likely to exist in fields greater than 15 acres and which are in close proximity, such that complexes of early successional habitat total at least 125 to 250 acres in size.  If habitats of this size cannot be conserved, grass or shrublands of at least 15 acres and within 1 mile of other grass or shrubland should be conserved.


Habitat Management Recommendations

Proper management of these habitats is very important to conserving early succesional wildlife species such as bobwhite quail, eastern meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows.  Grasslands and shrublands need to be managed to prevent succession to forest. Management recommendations in general are:

  • Revegetate utility rights-of-way into grassland or shrubland habitat using native plant species and establish rotational vegetation control schedules. Native plants use less water and require less maintenance.
  • Mow half to one-third of grasslands per year to maintain habitat structure. Try to mow only from mid-March to mid-April to reduce impacts during the nesting and winter foraging seasons.
  • Prescribed fire can produce better habitat at less cost than mowing or herbicides.
  • Utilize and promote the many state and federal programs that provide monetary and technical assistance for landowners to create and maintain early successional habitats (www.ncwildlife.org/CURE.aspx). Many of these programs can also be used for prescribed burning of longleaf pine forest as well.




Recognizing that wider is always better and that some buffer is better than no buffer, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission typically recommends the following buffer widths to minimize impacts to terrestrial and aquatic species, such as fish and mussels:

In subwatersheds without federally listed aquatic species:

  • Preserve 100 foot native, forested buffers on each side of perennial streams.
  • Preserve 50 foot native, forested buffers on each side of intermittent streams.

In subwatersheds that contain federally listed aquatic species:

  • Preserve 200 foot native, forested buffers on each side of perennial streams.
  • Preserve 100 foot native, forested buffers on each side of intermittent streams.

Note that subwatersheds containing federally listed species are identified in the Conservation Data for Green Growth (Important Watersheds file). 




Riparian Habitats & Greenways

A majority of wildlife rely on riparian forest zones to raise their young and to feed. As such, wide riparian forest buffers are needed to conserve a majority of wildlife.

  • Protect wide forested buffers of 300–600 feet or more on each side of the stream.
  • Research has shown this will provide sufficient travel corridors and some habitat for forest interior birds (such as the wood thrush), while 250 foot buffers are needed for most stream salamanders.

Other species of conservation concern, however, require forested travel corridors at least 1000 feet wide. This is why it is important to conserve some nodes this wide along streams and rivers where possible.

  • Use the relevant Conservation Data to identify priority places for wide stream buffer areas and habitat nodes if wide buffers are not possible along entire waterways.
  • Wide riparian forest buffers can be achieved through properly designed and managed greenways.

Greenways are a great community resource for providing recreation opportunities and habitat conservation. Greenways will conserve habitat if the following recommendations are implemented.

  • Maintain forested areas at least 1,000 feet wide over as much of the greenway as possible. This has been shown to conserve the full suite of forest wildlife habitat.
  • Greenways that are at least 330 feet wide still offer breeding habitat to some forest interior species.
  • If wide greenway areas are not possible along the entire trail, nodes of wide habitat areas should be encouraged along greenways at least 150 feet wide. 
  • Greenways that are 150 feet wide provide wildlife travel corridors for some priority species but do not provide enough breeding habitat for most species. 
  • Locate trails toward the edge of the greenway rather than the middle and keep trails as far as possible from streams, ideally 100 feet away. 


Pond breeding amphibians and reptiles lay their eggs in and near small wetland pools.  Small wetlands are isolated from waterways, are typically less than 0.1 acres to 3 acres and are dry during the late summer.  The amphibians and reptiles that rely on these habitats do so because they do not contain fish, which are predators of their eggs and or young. Pond breeding amphibians and reptiles live part of the year far from the wetland pool in the surrounding upland forest where they forage and burrow to escape extreme temperatures.

The intensity of land use surrounding the wetland pool will affect wildlife diversity and abundance in small wetlands. In addition, the amount of disturbance and development in a watershed affects local extinction of amphibians.

To conserve most of the amphibian and reptile species in small wetland habitats we recommend the following:

  • Maintain a 150 foot Critical Habitat Zone around each wetland pool, that is undisturbed to ensure that many wetland species are not lost from development.
  • A Secondary Upland Habitat Zone of an additional 600 feet is needed to protect core habitat for many semiaquatic reptiles and amphibians. This Secondary Upland Habitat Zone does not need to be symmetrical and can be more narrow or wide in places.
  • Habitat conservation can still be achieved when 25 percent of the Secondary Upland Habitat Zone is developed in a clustered manner.
  • If a bog is present onsite contact the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for conservation and management guidance.


Habitat Management Recommendations

  • Minimize the use of chemical herbicides within the core terrestrial habitat. If herbicide use is necessary, obtain a surfactant-free 53.8% glyphosate product such as Accord Concentrate (Dow), Rodeo (Dow), AquaNeat (Nufarm), Foresters (Nufarm), or Aquamaster (Monsanto) and mix it with the surfactant Agri-Dex (Helena). Surfactants have been shown to cause harm to amphibians using wetland areas.
  • Cluster any trails or infrastructure associated with recreation activities within a 25% developed area.
  • Avoid planting exotic species and actively remove exotic, invasive species where practical.
  • Remove trees from within the open water area of the wetland.  This will prevent water loss through tree leaves and will prevent the clay pool base from being punctured by tree roots.  Do not disturb the surrounding upland forest within the critical or secondary upland zone.

To accomplish wildlife conservation, habitats needs to be of sufficient interior 'core area' with minimal habitat edge.  Habitats also need to be connected.  For more information see the 'Connect' tab on the previous page.