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USDA Report Details Sustainable Forestry Practices Help Golden-winged Warbler, Other Wildlife in Appalachia

Justin Fritscher

‘Science to Solutions’ Highlights Best Ways to Help At-risk Bird on Private Lands

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Download the Science to Solutions report (PDF, 1MB)

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HUNTINGDON, Pa., July 13, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today released a new report to help the golden-winged warbler and other imperiled wildlife through sustainable forestry practices. The new Science to Solutions report, Sustainably Managing Forests Creates Golden-winged Warbler Breeding Habitat, highlights proven conservation strategies for the bird based on sound forestry management, mimicking natural disturbances to improve the quality of existing breeding habitat and to create new high-quality habitats.

Preliminary data suggest that these approaches are having a positive effect on warbler populations, and monitoring is ongoing to better evaluate population response across the range.  Other population studies have been able to quantify benefits of land management practices to species populations, such as a 55-81 percent increase in specific songbird populations in the West as a result of conservation practices in sagebrush country.

“Most forest land in Appalachia is privately owned, making landowners pivotal to the bird’s success,” USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller said from Huntingdon, where he met with landowners managing their lands for early successional habitat. “Stewardship-minded landowners are stepping up to help the golden-winged warbler and other wildlife while also managing healthy, more productive forests.”

Appalachia’s forests have changed over the past 50 years as older forests have come to dominate huge expanses of the eastern United States. Both game and non-game species that rely on younger forests are in decline, including the golden-winged warbler, which has suffered a 66 percent population decline since the 1960s. This major shift in the age classes of forests is the result of a lack of fires that occurred historically and forest management practices that do not support healthy forests and diverse habitats.

NRCS and other groups are working with private landowners to sustainably manage these diverse forests and restore early successional habitat to maintain a healthy balance of old and young growth. This new Science to Solutions report will help the agency fine-tune its conservation efforts.

The report cites research in which scientists monitored golden-winged warbler response to targeted habitat management. Scientists observed more golden-winged warblers when patches of early successional habitats were clumped close to each other, and when some large trees are left scattered across a timber harvest.

“Forest birds need a diversity of forest ages within their local landscape,” said Jeff Larkin, one of the report’s authors. “Golden-winged warblers are specialists, needing young forests and shrublands for nesting and then older forests nearby for raising their young.” Larkin is a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and forest bird habitat coordinator for American Bird Conservancy.

Studies highlighted in the Report show that, among other benefits, managed lands are home to three golden-winged warbler males for every 50 acres, and these sites provide habitat for more than 120 bird species–a third of which are suffering from significant population declines.

The golden-winged warbler is one of the target species of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), an NRCS-led partnership that restores key working landscapes using target species as barometers for success. Since 2012, NRCS has provided technical and financial assistance to landowners to restore more than 13,000 acres of early successional habitat in the region.

Habitat restored for the golden-winged warbler benefits many other species, including songbirds like cerulean warbler, indigo bunting and prairie warbler as well as game species like American woodcock, wild turkey, deer and grouse.

Habitat restoration efforts on private lands are helping species recover across the country. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species because of its recovery in bottomland hardwood forests restored by Louisiana landowners. In 2015, the FWS determined listings under the Endangered Species Act were not needed for the greater sage-grouse, Bi-State sage-grouse and New England cottontail largely because of large-scale collaborative conservation efforts on private lands.

This report is part of the Science to Solutions series by NRCS, the Sage Grouse Initiative and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative. To learn more about assistance opportunities, landowners should contact their local USDA service center.

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with a record 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide. For an interactive look at USDA's work in conservation and forestry over the course of this Administration, visit USDA Results: Caring for our Air, Land and Water.




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