The Morgan-Monroe Forest Important Bird Area is located in south-central Indiana at the juxtaposition of Morgan and Monroe Counties. Although several large parcels of private lands are included within the proposed IBA boundary, the state-owned forest land constitutes the majority of the habitat and is of primary significance for the stewardship of this crucial IBA.
Encompassing more than 25,000 acres, the Morgan-Monroe State Forest (MMSF) is Indiana's largest state forest and the second largest property owned and managed by Indiana?s Natural Resources (IDNR). Except for small areas maintained for recreational uses, utility easements, and some recently harvested areas, MMSF consists entirely of forested habitat, with relatively mature deciduous forest conditions being the most prevalent.
Considering the property's size and the amount of late and near mature forest stands within, Morgan-Monroe State Forest is one of the most significant sites in Indiana for breeding forest-dependent bird species. These spatial and ecological attributes, combined with the property's proximity to additional IBAs such as Yellowwood State Forest and the Pleasant Run unit of Hoosier National Forest, help create the most contiguous forested landscape available in Indiana for breeding neotropical migrants. For these reasons, population recruitment pressures often associated with habitat fragmentation, such as brood parasitism and nest depradation, are likely minimized within this complex of IBAs, especially when compared to the mosaic of isolated forests in Indiana.
WatchList species which comprise the nesting avifauna at MMSF include Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler. Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Black-and-white Warbler, and Hooded Warbler are state-listed species which also breed within the forested habitat.
Although most of MMSF comprises relatively mature hardwood forest, some harvesting and utility easements have created early successional habitats. Consequently, WatchList species that prefer brushy domains, such as Willow Flycatcher and Blue-winged Warbler, can be found nesting on the property. The MMSF is also one of the few public areas in Indiana where Ruffed Grouse have been found in recent years.
A few mixed forest and pine stands can be found within the confines of MMSF. Such areas have accomodated small breeding populations of Pine Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers over the past few years, which are uncommon nesting species for the remainder of the state. These coniferous out-cropings likely support over-wintering Northern Saw-whet Owls during the winter and migratory seasons, too.
An immediate threat to the forest-dependent bird communities of the Highland Rim and Shawnee Hills Natural Regions was the proposed increase in 2005 of timber cutting within state-owned forests. Historically, the state has opened up for harvest about 3.4 million board-feet of forest each year. Under the directive of Indiana's governor, that figure would rise between 10 million and 17 million board-feet. Morgan-Monroe State Forest has been one of the properties recently proposed as a recipient of such a precipitously increased cutting regime.
Although the proposed harvesting would create more early to mid-successional habitat within the confines of MMSF, thereby benefiting such species as Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Field Sparrow, the loss of mature forest would equally serve as a detriment to bird communities associated with late successional habitats. Consequently, the populations of WatchList species such as Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler would most likely be impacted.
In addition, research performed by scientists from Indiana University-Bloomington has illustrated that fragmentation and the creation of forest edges within the Shawnee Hills and Highland Rim Natural Regions are often associated with higher predation and parasitism levels in nesting neotropical birds. These effects, compounded with the loss of mature forest habitat, would certainly cause long-term problems for the reproductive success and population recruitment of forest interior birds at Morgan-Monroe State Forest.