A large forest management and habitat conservation effort was announced on Wednesday by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that will target improvements on approximately 64,000 acres of key habitat in the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin with one of the key anticipated outcomes being the avoidance of an Endangered Species Act listing for the imperiled Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA).
This tri-state project is part of a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) announced Wednesday that includes 100 high-impact projects involving all 50 states.
The program will provide more than $370 million for targeted conservation efforts in the states through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The project is scheduled to begin this year with funding for the program available through 2019. The project will be managed in partnership between NRCS and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and is complemented by work being conducted on public lands by ABC and its partners with support from the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund.
The GWWA, which depends on the conservation of key habitat in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for breeding, has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species, with a decline of more than three percent annually over the last 40 years across its range. That decline is due primarily to habitat loss, particularly the loss of early successional, or “young” forest habitat. Other factors contributing to the decline are habitat loss due to suburban sprawl, competition from and hybridization with Blue-winged Warblers, cowbird parasitism, and loss of non-breeding period (winter) habitat in Central and South America.
“Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have the largest remaining breeding population of the GWWA, and habitat management actions there are considered critical to rebuilding populations rapidly,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, which has been a national leader on the warbler’s conservation. “This is the poster-bird for recovery of early successional forest habitat and one that we are proud to contribute to saving for generations of Americans to come.”
Across its breeding cycle, the GWWA needs forested landscapes varying in age from young regenerating stands to those with mature forest characteristics. Core habitat for the GWWA has been identified through the GWWA Working Group, a consortium of partners that has targeted focal areas for conservation and management using a series of GWWA Best Management Practices.
The project is expected to create new breeding habitat for 1,180 pairs of GWWAs and result in an increase of 16,000 individuals within four years.
This will be achieved by providing technical support to private landowners whose properties lie within designated focal areas, helping them develop and implement conservation management plans for their properties. Similar to other NRCS programs, financial assistance will be available to qualifying landowners. Prescribed management practices may include aspen management, timber improvement, and shrubland restoration.
In addition to benefiting the GWWA, the conservation effort is expected to aid preservation of approximately 20 additional at-risk species such as American Woodcock, Ruffed Grouse, Black-billed Cuckoo, Moose, Canada Lynx, and Northern Long-eared Bat.
Groups participating in the project include: American Bird Conservancy; Natural Resources Conservation Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge; Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Woodcock Minnesota; Beltrami County, MN; The Conservation Fund; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Forest Service; Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; Ruffed Grouse Society/The American Woodcock Society; Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association; Wisconsin County Forests Association; Wildlife Management Institute; The Forestland Group; Pheasants Forever; National Wild Turkey Federation; Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Louisiana-Pacific Corporation; Michigan Tech University; Indiana University of Pennsylvania Research Institute; Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.