Habitat Summit 2024 Speaker Bios & Abstracts

Opening Session -Lowrance Room

Three Rivers – Who We Are and Why it Matters To You

Speaker: Travis Morehead, Executive Director, Three Rivers Land Trust

Bio: Travis was selected as the Executive Director position in February of 2016. Previously, he worked with the Catawba Lands Conservancy as the operations director of the Carolina Thread Trail project. Prior to that, he served in the military, including a combat deployment in Iraq, and worked as a senior and principal city planner for the town of Cary. Travis grew up in Stanly County and attended high school in Albemarle. He has a degree in political science with a concentration in town, city, and county management from Appalachian State University. Travis is dedicated to the Uwharrie region and the heartland area of North Carolina. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, fishing, and spending time with his family.

Abstract: This session will discuss Three Rivers Land Trust’s mission to conserve land, natural areas, rural landscapes, family farms, and historic places within North Carolina’s central Piedmont and Sandhills. This brief session will provide insight on how Three Rivers expands public lands, saves family farms, and protects local waters.

Session 1 - Keynote Session - Lowrance Room

Dreaming Big: Saving the Forgotten Grasslands of the Southeast

Speaker: Dr. Dwayne Estes, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Southeastern Grasslands Institute

Bio: Dwayne Estes serves as executive director at SGI. He is a Full Professor of Biology, Director of the APSU Herbarium, and Principal Investigator for the Center of Excellence for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University (Clarksville, TN). In January 2017, he co-founded SGI with colleague, Theo Witsell. Since 2016, Dwayne and his team have raised almost $15 million in funding, and in the past several years he and his collaborators have been awarded three grants from the National Science Foundation. Dwayne’s research interests include the flora, ecology, history, biodiversity, and biogeography of the Southeastern U.S. with emphasis on grasslands. He has published 25+ publications and co-authored the Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee published in 2015 by the University of Tennessee Press. He enjoys mentoring his graduate students and working hand-in-hand with a dedicated SGI team. He has been active in building diverse support for Southeastern US grasslands conservation, including bringing together philanthropists, government agencies, non-profits, corporate and small-business partners, Native American tribes, private landowners and ranchers, historians, educators, and citizen scientists.

Abstract: Dwayne will discuss the fascinating but little known story of Southeastern grasslands, what famed Harvard Professor and Alabamian E.O. Wilson termed the “Southern Grassland Biome.” Dwayne will explore how these grasslands connect to the story of America’s westward migration. From the Atlantic Coast, he’ll trace the largely unknown grassland highways and islands that generations settled and followed as they migrated across America from Virginia and the Carolinas to points farther west such as Texas. For millennia, the grasslands of the Southern Grassland Biome have been maintained by fire, grazing, and Native Americans. Fertile prairies were plowed into fields of corn and cotton. Sparsely treed open oak and pine savannas turned into closed-canopy forests due to fire suppression and the loss of bison. Other grasslands were cleared for cities and suburbs. After 500 years of European-American settlement and change, more than 95% of Southern grasslands, including those of North Carolina, have vanished, along with much of their biodiversity. But all is not lost and there is a reason to hope. Dwayne will show examples of resilient grasslands that have managed to survive centuries of degradation and highlight some of the species that are unique to these vanishing ecosystems. For the past six years, SGI has been developing a bold vision and is “dreaming big” to map, research, restore, and rebuild grasslands across SGI’s 24-state region. Dwayne will highlight the various ways that SGI is successfully restoring grasslands and is seeking to develop partnerships with key stakeholders to help bring more attention and resources to North Carolina’s overlooked and undervalued grassland landscapes.

Concurrent Session 2

Merchant Room

Bobwhite Habitat and Conservation at Multiple Spatial Scales

Speaker: Dr. James Martin, Professor, University of Georgia

Bio: James Martin is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at The University of Georgia. He received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2003. His degree had two concentrations: Natural Resources Management and Ecology. He also minored in Economics. He went on to get a PhD from UGA in Forest Resources in 2010. At UGA he conducts research on northern bobwhites, ruffed grouse, and other species in the context of managed ecosystems mostly on private lands. He teaches courses in wildlife habitat management and conservation decision making. He currently advises 13 graduate students and four post-docs. He and his lab have published > 100 peer-reviewed publications, > 50 popular and outreach articles, and helped place over 30 graduate students and post-docs in natural resource management or science positions. Most importantly, he and his wife together raise three kids, 6 dogs, 7 pigeons, a cat, and two bee hives.

Abstract: Northern bobwhite populations continue to decline throughout the species range. However, population recovery is possible if habitat management is done at the appropriate scales. In my talk I will describe and discuss bobwhite habitat management at multiple scales to restore bobwhite populations.

Cedars Room

Crafting Food Plots for Diverse Game Species

Speaker: Bob Westerfield, University of Georgia

Bio: Robert Westerfield is a UGA Extension Specialist with the University of Georgia Horticulture Department. He has been with the university for 34 years and currently has state-wide responsibility in fruits and vegetables. Bob has authored hundreds of articles and publications on various horticultural topics including attracting wildlife to your land. Bob was an author for QDMA writing the food plot species profile for approximately two years. He also authored articles on wildlife land management and tracking deer. Bob lives on 100+ acre farm in middle Georgia that he manages for livestock and wildlife. He also oversees food plot plantings on a 1500-acre hunting track. Bob is passionate about deer hunting with primitive weapons such as long bow and flintlock mussel loader. He also enjoys hunting other species such as turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and doves and plants food plots with those in mind as well. His latest interests now include introducing his young grandchildren to fishing in the farm pond as well hunting and camping on the property.

Abstract: This program will cover the essential elements to develop attractive food plots to bring in multi-species of game. We will look at planting successions of crops and fruit bearing plants to attract game species year-round. Emphasis of the program will center around site selection, choosing the proper seed mix, as well as adding fruits and nuts to enhance the overall habitat. We will also discuss proper stand selection for close encounter shots on wildlife.

Peddler Room

Shortleaf Pines and Prescribed Fire Resiliency

Speaker: Dr. Joseph Roise, Professor, North Carolina State University

Bio: Dr. Joseph Roise is a Professor of Forestry and Operations Research, in the College of Natural Resources, North Carolina State University. He serves as the principal investigator on several projects, but most relevant he is the Director of the Southern Fire Exchange a Joint Fire Science Program regional fire science information exchange. As a forest operations research scientist, his efforts focus on integrating information into large-scale forest and landscape planning models for decision-making and policy analysis purposes. Including wildlife habitat, controlling water quantity and quality, controlling recreation activities, maintaining species diversity, ecological restoration, carbon sequestration, economic values and fire control and mitigation. Also, he is a recognized expert on valuation and appraisal of market values, value in use, and social valuation.

Abstract: I will delve into the fascinating relationship between shortleaf pine and the rest of the world. Shortleaf pine has evolved in the presence of fire and has developed adaptations to live with fire. Earth is the fire planet, and most plants have evolved characteristics that allow plant life to survive with fire. Fire is often perceived as a destructive force, leaving devastation in its wake. However, in the realm of ecology, fire plays a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem balance. Controlled burns clear away the underbrush, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and facilitating the germination of seeds. They also recycle nutrients back into the soil, enriching it for future growth. But what happens when fire is suppressed? Without regular burns, forests become dense with vegetation, creating fuel for catastrophic wildfires. Additionally, without the cleansing effect of fire, shade-tolerant species may outcompete shortleaf pines, altering the composition of the forest. Fire and shortleaf pines are not adversaries, but rather partners in a delicate ecological dance. By understanding and respecting this relationship, we can work towards a future where both thrive in harmony.

Concurrent Session 3

Merchant Room

Chewing the Cud: Discussion of Deer Habitat Management and CWD Status

Speaker: April Boggs Pope, Deer Biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission

Bio: April Boggs Pope is the Deer Biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). Her primary duties with NCWRC are research coordination, policy, and disease surveillance and management of deer. A native of North Carolina, she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with a minor in Forest Management from NC State University and a Master’s Degree in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from NC State University.

Abstract: White-tailed deer are one of the most well-known and sought after game species in North Carolina, and their pursuit helps fund conservation efforts, feed families, and provide a strong appreciation for the outdoors. With that in mind, hunters and landowners frequently look for strategies to improve habitat for deer. During this session, we will discuss several methods for improving habitat for white-tailed deer along with one of the greatest threats to deer in North Carolina – Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is a transmissible and always fatal neurological disease that affects deer and other cervids such as elk, moose and reindeer/caribou. In response, CWD Surveillance Areas with special regulations have been established to track the disease and minimize spread. As of April 2024, 23 cases of CWD have been confirmed from a total of 5 counties in North Carolina. Come learn more about habitat management for white-tailed deer, CWD in NC, what resources are available from the Wildlife Commission, how we can adapt to CWD on the landscape and promote the wellbeing of people and deer, and bring your questions for the state’s deer biologist.

Cedars Room

Breeding Bird Response to Fire and Other Disturbances in Eastern Hardwood Forests

Speaker: Katie H. Greenberg, Research Ecologist, US Forest Service

Bio: Cathryn (Katie) H. Greenberg is a Research Ecologist with the Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management Research Work Unit, USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Asheville NC. She received her MS from the University of Tennessee and her PhD from the University of Florida, where she studied the ecology of sand pine scrub in Ocala National Forest. Her current research focuses on developing information and tools that are useful to forest managers and planners. Research areas include (1) effects of prescribed fire and wildfire, mixed-oak regeneration harvests, and other forest management practices on reptile, amphibian, and breeding bird communities; (2) production of forest food resources, such as native fleshy fruit and hard mast, in relation to forest types and silvicultural disturbances; (3) long-term monitoring of amphibian populations in longleaf pine-wiregrass sandhills in relation to forest health and climate change. She has co-edited books on early successional habitats, natural disturbances, and fire ecology and management in US forests.

Abstract: Historically, natural and anthropogenic disturbances in eastern hardwood forests maintained a heterogeneous landscape, with variable levels of canopy cover. Today, prescribed fire is used to restore disturbance-adapted plant communities, and presumably the associated wildlife. However, little is known about wildlife response to prescribed fire or wildfire variability in eastern hardwood forest, especially over a relatively long time period (i.e., >10 years). In this talk I present overviews of multiple, multi-partner short- and long-term studies that together address breeding bird responses to single or repeated low- and high-severity prescribed fire, mixed-severity wildfires, season of burning, wind disturbance, shelterwood harvests, and other silvicultural treatments in the southern Appalachians. Together, study results indicate that bird abundance and species richness increases in response to forest canopy reduction, whether by high-severity burns, wind disturbance, or shelterwood harvests. Increases are due to an influx of disturbance-adapted species, with little change in the abundance of most species associated with mature forests. In general, breeding bird communities show little change in response to low- severity prescribed burns or wildfire, or silvicultural midstory reductions if canopy cover is left intact. In the short-term, substantial forest overstory reduction by timber harvests or high-severity burns may be required to create forest conditions suitable for disturbance-dependent species.

Peddler Room

Timberdoodles: Active Forest Management for the American Woodcock

Speaker: Nick Biemiller, Forest Conservation Director, American Woodcock Society

Bio: Nick has a diverse background in forestry and conservation and holds a Master of Forestry from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. As the Southern Appalachian Forest Conservation Director with the Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society (RGS & AWS), Nick manages a regional conservation program across the mountain regions of NC, SC, GA, TN, KY, and southwest VA and is focused on increasing capacity for active forest management on public and private lands to benefit healthy forests and abundant wildlife.

Abstract: Ruffed grouse and American woodcock have been steadily declining throughout their range and current population abundances in the Southern Appalachians are dangerously low. Ruffed grouse and American woodcock are indicators of healthy, resilient forest ecosystems and an umbrella species in that their decline is consistent with the decline of a broad suite of at-risk wildlife identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in North Carolina’s Wildlife Action Plan. The primary driver of population decline across most of their range is a lack of young forest habitat and habitat diversity. The ruffed grouse range is limited to the mountains of western North Carolina; however, woodcock is abundant throughout the Piedmont and Coastal Plain during their winter nonbreeding season. As a migratory species, a third of all American woodcock in North America either stopover or overwinter in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and South Carolina, making the region a hotspot for woodcock conservation. To maintain viable habitat and help conserve the bird in this critical part of its range, RGS & AWS are building a new conservation program in the Piedmont and Coastal Plan of the Southeast to increase capacity for active forest management on public and private lands. As a forester or land manager, managing your property for woodcock includes increasing young forest and shrubland habitat through tree planting, timber harvesting, cattle exclusion, and noncommercial habitat improvements.

Concurrent Session 4

Merchant Room

Results from North Carolina’s Largest Ever Study of Wild Turkey Ecology

Speaker: Dr. Chris Moorman, Professor, NC State University

Bio: Chris Moorman is Professor, Faculty Scholar, and Associate Head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. Chris teaches courses related to wildlife habitat management and his research program is focused on understanding wildlife habitat relationships, especially as they relate to human-induced landscape change. Chris recently led a large-scale study of wild turkey ecology in North Carolina and was the Editor of the proceedings of 12th National Wild Turkey Symposium, which was published as a special issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin in 2022.

Abstract: Dr. Chris Moorman will present results from a 4-year research collaboration involving North Carolina State University, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. The project team collected data on wild turkey ecology from over 250 privately owned properties in 8 counties across the 3 major ecoregions in North Carolina. Chris will describe the methods used to capture and monitor wild turkeys and then he will present a summary of wild turkey nest timing, nest survival, nest-site selection, brood survival to 28 days, female survival, and male survival and harvest rates. Additionally, he will discuss whether results varied across the state and what other temporal (e.g., year) or spatial (e.g., land cover) factors may contribute to variation in wild turkey ecology.

Cedars Room

Blooms and Beyond: Inviting Pollinators to your Property for Ecological Enhancement

Speakers: Gabriella Garrison & John Isenhour

Bio: Gabriela Garrison is the Eastern Piedmont Habitat Conservation Coordinator for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. She works with developers, consultants, and government agencies to provide ecologically friendly guidance that minimizes impacts to wildlife and priority habitat in a developing landscape. She also works in support of the Green Growth Toolbox, a non-regulatory guide that offers the appropriate tools for NC towns, cities, and counties to grow while conserving wildlife and natural resources. She earned a B.S. in Zoology, with a minor in Forestry, from NC State University and an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Virginia Tech. In 2017, she formed the NC Pollinator Conservation Alliance (NCPCA), a partnership that works to promote pollinator and habitat conservation across the State.

Bio: John Isenhour currently serves as the Wildlife Habitat Coordinator in the NC Wildlife Commission’s Division of Wildlife Management. In this position he administers the Wildlife Conservation Land Program which offers a property tax deferment for landowners who agree to enhance their property for our native wildlife species. His responsibilities also include representing the Wildlife Commission on the NC Tree Farm and Forest Stewardship Boards as well as filling the role of liaison with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Prior to his current position he was a Wildlife Conservation Biologist and Technical Assistance Biologist providing guidance and assistance for private landowners in the piedmont. John has a bachelor’s degree from NC State University in Wildlife Management and spent 8 years working with the NC Forest Service prior to NCWRC. He enjoys helping friends and family “cautiously experiment” with the management on their properties as well as on his own Rowan County property.

Abstract: Pollinating insects, birds, and mammals are essential components to a healthy and diverse ecosystem. From an economic perspective, 2/3 of our crops rely on pollinators. From an ecological standpoint, over 85% of flowering plants are dependent upon their services. North Carolina is home to a myriad of pollinators, including 560 species of native bees, 177 species of butterflies, 2,800+ species of moths, 1 hummingbird, and countless wasps, flies, and beetles. Whether you are interested in enhancing pollinator habitat to increase brooding resources for game birds, improve soft mast production for songbirds, diversify browse availability for deer, strengthen crop production, or simply attract insects, establishing native plants can help meet your goals. Join us as we discuss the critical role pollinators play in a healthy ecosystem and how you can make your properties more appealing for pollinators, regardless of the acreage.


Peddler Room

American Chestnut: The Race to Save an Iconic Species

Speakers: Jamie Van Clief & Hannah Leeper, The American Chestnut Foundation

Bio: Jamie Van Clief began her journey with TACF when she interned for the New England Science Coordinator while
completing her Bachelor of Science in both Forestry and Environmental Science from the University of Vermont.
She then completed her Peace Corps service in Panama as an agriculture volunteer, followed by two years at the
United States Department of Agriculture. Jamie came back to TACF to start full-time in 2021 as the Regional Science Coordinator for the Southern Region.
She covers North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, and is based out of the office
headquarters in Asheville.

Bio: Hannah joined TACF in 2023 shortly after moving to Asheville, NC. Her professional experience includes 10+ years working in outdoor education, event production, and operations in various locations such as Hawaii, Colorado, and Australia. She has fostered her personal passion for conservation through volunteer work with tree plantings and invasive species eradication initiatives. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Spanish and has personal interests in learning languages and playing music.

Abstract: The tragedy and recovery of the American chestnut species is a compelling story now more than 100 years old. At the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees once thrived in the eastern forests of the U.S. Remarkably fast-growing and often reaching more than 100 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, this tree was a prolific food source for humans, wildlife and livestock. Its timber was light, straight-grained, and rot-resistant, making it an indispensable building material. Then the chestnut blight struck. Accidentally introduced in 1904, this lethal imported Asian fungus spread quickly throughout the tree’s entire native range. By 1950, the American chestnut was functionally extinct and ceased to exist as a canopy species. No longer the forest’s dominant hardwood, it began to fade from collective memory. Once an economic engine and legendary in its grandeur, its loss was considered one of the most catastrophic
ecological events in recent history. Decades of prior attempts to bring back the species by government and researchers ultimately failed, until a group of scientists and caring citizens established The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) in 1983. This non-profit, membership-based organization has one mission: to restore the American chestnut to its native range. Learn from TACF’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator Jamie Van Clief and Regional Outreach Coordinator, Hannah Leeper about the progress this organization has made, along with their private network of citizen scientists, landowners, academic partners and government collaborators, over the last 36 years. The discoveries and findings towards this hopeful mission may not only save the iconic chestnut tree, but perhaps help other tree species in decline through breeding, biotechnology, and biocontrol.


Concurrent Session 5

Merchant Room

Practical Trapping Solutions for Private Landowners

Speaker: Brandon Emert, USDA Wildlife Services

Bio: Brandon graduated from Clemson University in 2011 with a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology. Upon graduation, he began working in the private nuisance wildlife control field. Brandon then went to work for USDA APHIS Wildlife Services where he has been working for program for the last 10 years. Brandon works with local, state, federal agencies, and private landowners to help mitigate human/wildlife conflicts.

Abstract: Common trapping techniques to resolve damage caused by common nuisance wildlife. We will discuss different techniques to trap beavers and coyotes on private lands. We will discuss various trapping regulations, different trap types, and different sets used to remove these nuisance species.

Cedar Room

Leaving a Legacy- An Introduction to Conservation Easements

Speaker: Emily Callicutt, Senior Land Protection Specialist, Three Rivers Land Trust

Bio: Emily began working for Three Rivers Land Trust in February 2021. She attended North Carolina State University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology in the spring of 2020. Emily graduated from Clemson University with a Masters degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Resource Management in December of 2023. She is also a Certified Associate Wildlife Biologist. As a Montgomery County native, Emily is passionate about conserving the natural lands she has been able to enjoy in the region.

Abstract: This presentation will discuss the conservation options available to private landowners. Topics include donated conservation easements, purchased conservation easements, property acquisition, and conservation land donations. Conservation options for farm and forest land will be discussed in detail.


Peddler Room

Upland Depressional Wetland Management for Reptiles and Amphibians in the Longleaf Ecosystem

Speaker: Michael Martin, Herpetologists, NC Wildlife Resources Commission

Bio: Mike Martin received his BS in Zoology from NC State University in 2005 and has worked with NC Wildlife Resources Commission since 2017, focusing on monitoring and management of rare reptiles and amphibians in the sandhills region. Mike has worked with the University of Florida monitoring and controlling spread of the invasive Argentine Black and White Tegu in the southern Everglades, Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy monitoring rare herpetofauna in Francis Marion National Forest, and SC Department of Natural Resources monitoring Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes and Gopher Tortoises in the Lowcountry. Mike has been a member of NC Herpetological Society since 2005 and has served as its president since 2021.

Abstract: Ephemeral wetlands are essential habitat for numerous reptile and amphibian species throughout North Carolina and beyond. A changing landscape threatens the future of these sensitive landscape features, emphasizing the need for appropriate protections and management. Within the longleaf ecosystem, ephemeral wetlands can take a variety of forms, with upland depressional wetlands being one type supporting species in decline. Though appropriate management largely falls in line with best management practices focused on prescribed fire, the legacy of fire suppression in a fragmented landscape and changing land use practices present challenges that require special considerations for wetland restoration efforts. We will focus on the ecological interactions of highlighted reptiles and amphibians dependent on upland depressional wetlands and relate them to the common ways in which these wetlands have degraded and how wildlife professionals approach restoration with the goal of supporting wildlife needs.