Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center
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Wildlife Management

There are numerous scientific/biological activities taking place at Howell Woods throughout the year.

Bird Monitoring/Survey

Wood Duck & Prothonotary Warbler Nest Box

Citizen Science Projects

During the winter and spring, the staff participates in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science program, Project FeederWatchProject FeederWatch began in 1987 as a winter-long survey of birds that visit backyard feeders in North America.  Since then, the project has grown to become the most comprehensive database on feeder bird populations in the world. 

The staff also participates in the Birdhouse Network, another Cornell Citizen Science program, in which weekly checks of numerous bird boxes are conducted to monitor the nesting success of each box.  The major species using boxes at Howell Woods are Eastern bluebirds, wood ducks, white-breasted nuthatches, hooded mergansers, and prothonotary warblers.

Bird Banding and Point Counts

Starting in mid-May through early August, the staff biologists and technicians, with the aid of trained volunteers, operate a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship, or MAPS, station every ten days.  MAPS is a network of over 600 standardized stations that use constant-effort mist netting to monitor population demographics of North American landbird species.  Founded and coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations based in Point Reyes Station, CA, it is the largest coordinated landbird banding effort in the world.

Banded Swainson's WarblerHowell Woods also conducts migration bird banding as a member of the Landbird Migration Monitoring Network of the Americas (LaMMNA).  LaMMNA is "a group of individuals, organizations, and agencies that have joined together to form a Network for the United States and Latin America that will collect, archive and make available the results of monitoring efforts from stations across the Americas."

Migration banding is conducted at two different stations of differing habitats during the months of March-May for the spring and September-November for the fall.  The goal of the migration banding is to document the movement, timing, and condition of the birds using two different habitats.  One station is located near the Neuse River in a bottomland hardwood forest and wet meadow edge environment.  The other station is located in a mixed pine/hardwood forest bordered by upland fallow fields. 

During the winter months, banding is conducted at the Learning Center Feeder Station during suitable weather to monitor the site fidelity and survivorship of wintering birds visiting bird feeders.  Winter sparrow banding is conducted on a limited basis in some of the wet meadow and fallow fields to document the presence of these elusive birds in these particular habitats.  All pre-fledgling birds encountered during nest-box checks are also banded.

Bird monitoring point counts are conducted to document absence/presence-abundance and seasonal population shifts. The route contains over 20 points every half mile and samples bird activities in a variety of habitats on Howell Woods.  The route is conducted each month.

Find out more about birds species that have been documented and banded at Howell Woods.

Reliable volunteers are always needed to assist with either bird banding operations (training required and provided) or nest box monitoring and point count operation.  Contact James Sasser if interested.

Mammal, Reptile, and Amphibian Monitoring/Survey

Numerous remote digital wildlife scouting cameras are used on the property to document the location, time of activity, and number of a variety of wildlife throughout the year.

Several bat houses of different design types have been erected and monitored on a routine basis.

Limited reptile and amphibian surveys to document absence/presence-abundance using a variety of techniques will also be implemented as time permits.

Learn more about mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that have been documented at Howell Woods.

Reliable and experienced volunteers are greatly needed for reptile and amphibian surveys.  Contact Jason Parker or James Sasser for more information.

Other Monitoring/Surveying

The species of organisms found on Howell Woods is quite diverse.  The number of species documented on the property is always growing as continued field work is accomplished. 

The following have been documented: 

There has been little or no work as of yet, to document the number of species of insects, mushrooms and other fungi, fish, mollusks, and crustaceans.

Habitat Management

All wildlife need four components to survive:  food, cover, water, and space.  The productivity/survivorship of an individual or species depends on their ability to successfully acquire the four components found in their "habitat."  The staff of Howell Woods practices both passive and active habitat management to benefit all native species that occur on the property.

Shrub/scrub and fallow fields are maintained in their early successional stage by conducting controlled burns (late February-early June), mechanical mowing and disking (early spring or late summer), and/or applying selective herbicides (during the growing season) on a 2-3 year basis.  This seasonal and yearly schedule ensures no disturbance of these habitats during the breeding season and also ensures adequate vegetative cover for the harsh winter season.

Prescribed Fire in Pine StandForest management activities are conducted on a small scale, sustainable basis with wildlife, soil and water, aesthetics, and economics all having equal consideration.

The staff, along with the aid of our consulting forester, have begun an aggressive longleaf pine savanna restoration project on the property. The longleaf pine ecosystem, prior to European settlement, covered over 92 million acres of the Southeastern United States Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain. Today, only 1.4% or roughly 3 million acres still remain.

The longleaf pine ecosystem consisted of an uneven aged, open, park-like forest of longleaf pine without a developed midstory and a understory of a great diversity of grasses and flowering plants. This system was maintained by frequent, every 2-5 years, low intensity growing season fires. Because of these frequent fires and tolerance of the longleaf to these fires, they were able to dominate everywhere except in the wet and swampy creek and river bottoms where the loblolly pine and hardwoods reigned.

The restoration work involves the commercial harvest of existing off-site pine (loblolly and slash) and/or hardwood trees, conducting the appropriate site preparation, planting longleaf pine, and conducting growing season prescribed fires.  Other restoration work will involve planting of native grasses and other flowering plants where they historically would have grown. Currently, most loblolly plantations are being clear-cut with site preparation and planting underway. The remaining loblolly stands are being commercially thinned.  The staff is following thinning operations with growing season prescribed fires in an attempt to restore the grassy and herbaceous understory. In 5-10 years these stands will be clear-cut and replanted with longleaf pine.

Other areas on the property are being identified where longleaf pine would have historically occurred and will be restored to longleaf pine savannah conditions in the very near future. The staff estimates that roughly 300+ acres will be restored to historic longleaf savannah conditions over the next 20 years.  Once established, these longleaf pine savannahs will be managed with growing season prescribed fires and as uneven-age stands on an 80-100+ year rotation for both wildlife and economic returns.  Over 100 acres have been planted in longleaf pine since early 2006.

In hardwood areas selected for harvest, the commercially undesirable, selected mast and/or fruit producing trees, den trees, and dead trees/snags are marked in small clusters and retained in order to facilitate desirable oak regeneration and efficient forestry operations. This method provides for ecological, economical, and aesthetic benefits of forest management.

Invasive/Exotic Species Management

Treating Fire Ant MoundThe intended or accidental introduction of non-native species of plant, animal, and insect often do great harm, in a variety of ways, to the invaded ecosystem and the native species that occur in that ecosystem. 

The staff of Howell Woods actively attempts to control the negative effects of invasive/exotic species that occur on the property. 

  • Feral pigs are controlled by fund-raising hunting. 
  • Japanese stilt grass, Bermuda grass, Japanese honey-suckle, non-native lespedezas and other exotic plants are controlled by using selective herbicides and/or by mechanical methods. 
  • European  starlings and house sparrows are controlled by lethal removal or discouraged by nest box modifications. 
  • Fire ants are treated with a selective pesticide (with little or no effect on other wildlife) during all months of the year that they are active.

Hunting Sports

With the application of specific game laws and ethical and humane harvest techniques, hunting can be a valuable management tool for wildlife.  Wildlife species (game and non-game) and their habitats are managed on the property of the Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center by a professionally trained wildlife biologist, three technicians, and numerous volunteers.

Game species, properly managed, are seen as a natural, renewable resource.  Currently, whitetail deer, feral pigs, waterfowl, mourning dove, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, and gray squirrel are available for hunting.  All monies collected from all the hunting related activities that are conducted on the property are used to fund the continued operations that benefit the ongoing wildlife/habitat management, environmental education, and low impact outdoor recreation activities.  Simply put, wildlife recreation/conservation pays for wildlife recreation/conservation!

Because Howell Woods is foremost an educational facility, education is a top priority.  The best way to learn the principles being taught at Howell Woods is through hands-on practical applications.  All hunters are required to attend a Hunter Orientation and Safety class before hunting on the property.  The staff of Howell Woods has established certain additional rules and regulations beyond that of state and federal game laws for hunting on the property.  These additional regulations are designed to ensure a safe hunting experience, an equal opportunity to participate in hunting sports for the general public in well managed habitats, and proper game management by applying humane and scientific harvest techniques and regulations.

The staff will not tolerate unsafe or unethical hunters as any true sportsperson should not either!  After a hunting experience at Howell Woods, the staff hopes that each hunter will have a new respect for outdoor safety, the profession of wildlife management, fellow hunters, native ecosystems, and all wildlife species in general!

Access information about hunting opportunities at Howell Woods.

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