The Homochitto National Forest lies in a transition zone between the Longleaf Pine Belt to the east and south and the Loess Bluff Hills to the west. The best available historical description suggests that the ridge and upper side slopes were pine forest dominated by Longleaf Pine with Shortleaf Pine and Loblolly Pine occurring in lower aspects. Hardwood species occurred in lower zones along major water courses and in protected sites (mesic ravines and other areas). The forest was cleared during the 1920's and the exclusion of fire after this period resulted in a forest dominated by Loblolly Pine. Fire suppression also allowed hardwood invasions on the upper slopes formerly dominated by Longleaf Pine.

Ornithological Summary

This IBA is the only large tract of forested land in southwest Mississippi that is being restored to its native Longleaf Pine ecosystem. This is being done using prescribed burns and other land management techniques to support the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Studies conducted on the Homochitto show that intensive Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat management enhances the abundance of breeding birds dependent on fire maintained open pine-grassland forests. Nine species, including White-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Eastern Wood-Pewee, are more abundant in stands under intensive Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat management than in areas under traditional forest management. Seven of these nine species (Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Indigo Bunting, Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker) are listed as species exhibiting regional and national declines. Other species of special concern endemic to the southern pine forest/grasslands that benefit from Red-cockaded Woodpecker management are Bachman?s Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, and Southeastern American Kestrel. It is estimated that there are several thousand breeding pairs of Northern Bobwhite present on the Homochitto National Forest. Of the 41 breeding bird species detected on the forest, three neotropical migrants (Prairie Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Wood Thrush) and four residents (Bachman?s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Red-headed Woodpecker) are listed as vulnerable. Swallow-tailed Kites have been seen in summer over the Homochitto River and are suspected to breed in the area. Wild Turkey is abundant in the forest in all habitat types.

Conservation Issues

Since 1993, more than 20,000 acres of forest have had mechanical/chemical mid-story removal accomplished to ensure recovery of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and to begin to return the forest to its historical condition. In addition more than 90,000 acres are being regularly managed with prescribed burning to accomplish the same results. The goal is to burn ca. 30,000 acres per year on average with an alternating schedule of growing season and dormant season burns according to management needs. Conservation management practices have increased the population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers from a historical low of 22 groups in 1992 to a population of 60 groups in 2002.

Kudzu, Japanese Privet, Wisteria, Japanese Climbing Fern, Japanese Honeysuckle and Popcorn Tree are the major non-native vegetative pest species. Feral hogs are a problem in parts of the forest. Years of fire exclusion have left a heavy hardwood mid-story and understory component which is proving to be difficult to control with prescribed burning alone.

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