Aelred Geis Memorial Woodcock Habitat Demonstration Area, Mount Nebo Wildlife Management Area, Garrett County, Maryland

About Mt. Nebo WMA

On this 1,863-acre state-owned tract in western Maryland, conservationists have launched a project aimed at managing approximately 400 acres to benefit woodcock, ruffed grouse, alder flycatchers, golden-winged warblers, and other young-forest wildlife. The WMA centers on Millers Run in the Youghiogheny River watershed in the Allegheny Mountains. Divided into eight management units, the WMA includes old fields, alder wetlands, aspen stands, hardwood forest of varying ages, dry-land shrub habitats, and spring seeps.

Of 528 vertebrate species documented statewide in Maryland, 236 have been found at Mt. Nebo, where wildlife specialists work to maintain a balance of habitats appropriate for the species present. Small patch cuts periodically have been made in wooded areas since the 1970s to create young forest for ruffed grouse. Managers also mow grassy and weedy areas to keep them in an old-field state, and they maintain areas of contiguous mature forest and protect stream corridors and riparian zones.

The woodcock project at Mt. Nebo is dedicated to the memory of Aelred Geis, a longtime Maryland resident and a migratory bird scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Geis conducted pioneering research on woodcock and was a strong advocate of sound wildlife management. A large sign on the demonstration area recognizes his life and accomplishments.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

The eight management units were designated based on soils, slopes, and vegetation. Managers have begun using a range of strategies and techniques to make the units more useful to woodcock and other species that need brushy, shrub-dominated, and young-forest habitats.

overmature alder

The core of the woodcock management area is an extensive wetlands complex dominated by speckled alder and other shrubs such as ninebark, high-bush blueberry, elderberry, and willow. In winter 2011, loggers cut back 8 acres of alder in seven separate patches. They used a tracked machine with a cutting head, chainsaws, and felling saws, and did the work when the ground was frozen to keep from damaging this damp-soil habitat. Cuts extend from near Millers Run up through the moisture gradient into drier hardwood areas. The hardwood trees had been shading out alder at the edge of the habitat patch, and removing them should let the alders expand. Woodcock rear their broods in alder; they also feed in those dense habitats, using damp areas during dry periods and moving into higher, drier terrain during wet weather.

On cut-over areas, managers selectively used herbicides to kill bush honeysuckle, an exotic invasive shrub. Suppressing the honeysuckle lets the alder outcompete this aggressive, non-native plant. During the first growing season following logging, the pole-stage and mature aspens cut during the winter logging operation sent up a vigorous regrowth of stems from their underground root systems. Aspen is a favorite tree-type for woodcock and ruffed grouse. Many songbirds also nest and feed in regrowing aspen stands, where the dense growth protects them from predators, especially hawks.

Mt. Nebo lies near the southern edge of the breeding range for the alder flycatcher, a species of special concern in Maryland. The WMA has a healthy population of nesting alder flycatchers, and efforts to reinvigorate the alder stands will insure that this uncommon bird continues to find good breeding habitat in western Maryland. In some cases, alder flycatchers also breed in upland settings, including overgrown fields and regenerating clearcuts; managers plan to monitor such areas to learn whether the local population expands into them. Harvesting trees in drier habitats also benefits golden-winged warblers, which nest in areas with goldenrod and blackberry, plants that come back strongly following logging.

The next stage of management on the woodcock demonstration area will focus on renewing small patch-type clearcuts made around 25 years ago. Managers have drawn up plans to re-cut 20 acres on habitat units 5 and 6. They will also conduct a 15-acre timber sale of mature hardwoods on the edge of Unit 6. These cuts, scheduled for winter 2012, are in drier areas than the alder habitat. Woodcock readily nest and feed in such logged areas, as do golden-winged warblers. Other wildlife will benefit from the flush of shoots and seedlings: cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys (turkey hens nest in dense protective cover provided by young forest), black bears (they will feed on fruit produced in the newly sunlit patches), and many kinds of songbirds. Songbirds that breed in mature forest often lead their newly fledged young into thickly regrowing forest to feed on the abundant insects and fruits that such areas produce; the dense vegetation also protects the young birds from avian predators.

Managers in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have planted apple trees on several habitat units at Mt. Nebo. They will also continue to maintain grassy openings, which provide woodcock with areas for courting and breeding in springtime and for ground-roosting in late summer and early fall. Over time, managers will work to keep about 25 percent of the potential woodcock habitat in management units 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, or about 100 acres, in habitat that is less than 20 years old.

Funding and Partners

Aelred Geis Estate, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

Mt. Nebo WMA is west of U.S. Route 219 midway between the town of Oakland and Deep Creek Lake. Visitors can take exit 14A on Interstate 68, then proceed south on Route 219. The WMA is across the highway from the Mt. Nebo Work Center of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Access is by foot on Mt. Nebo Road, which heads west and downhill into the WMA. For more information or to arrange a site tour, contact wildlife biologist Rick Latshaw, 1728 Kings Run Rd., Oakland MD 21550, 301-334-4255,