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Sustaining the warbler recovery.

Since the very first Global ReLeaf project, AMERICAN FORESTS has had a connection to a tiny, yellow-breasted songbird called the Kirtland's warbler. The habitat needs of this rare, ground-nesting bird are complex--stands of jack pine are not enough. The songbirds thrive in the type of forest that grows after stand-replacing wildfire, in which there are large expanses of young trees with occasional grassy openings. Where fire is not possible, clear-cutting and replanting mimic the natural process.

Our first project 20 years ago (and many projects since) planted jack pines to restore the warbler habitat in northern Michigan, which has been fragmented and overgrown, forcing the species to near extinction and earning it a spot on the endangered list. Efforts to revive the species through cooperative action by federal and state agencies and conservation groups are making a real difference.

For the last nine years running, the Kirtland's warbler has exceeded federal recovery goals, reaching about 1,800 singing males in the state of Michigan, which means an estimated total population of roughly 3,600. This is a huge increase from the mere 167 males that were counted in 1980.

Recovery has been so great for the Kirtland's that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun discussing when and if the bird could be removed from the endangered species list. However, the reclassification could have a negative effect if it resulted in a reduction of the funding that has enabled the species to recover to this extent. Experts agree that any reduction in forest management, including the planting of tens of thousands of acres each year and the control of brood parasite cowbirds, will result in a quick decline of the species.

Another newly observed and potentially significant threat to this recovery is climate change. This spring, scientists observed new jack pine growth three weeks earlier than ever before. Following their spring migration from the Bahamas, Kirtland's warblers feed their nestlings on insects that mass for a limited time on the new jack pine growth. If the insects are not there when the birds need them, the survival rate of the nestlings could be reduced enough to threaten species recovery. Despite the work that AMERICAN FORESTS and many other organizations have done to preserve this little songbird, climate change has the potential to undo it all.

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For our part, we will continue to add to the one million trees we have planted for this little songbird, a milestone for us and for this special bird that we celebrated on May 15 with a ceremonial planting at the Kirland's Warbler Wildlife Festival (see "A Song of Success in the Jack Pine Forest," Spring issue).

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Title Annotation:CLIPPINGS; Global ReLeaf project
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2010
Words:446
Previous Article:Earth day recap.
Next Article:Battle with the beetles continues.
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