Megan Higgs, Manager of Forest Restoration Programs
On July 19, two American Forests colleagues and I met with four Hiawatha National Forest representatives in Michigan’s upper peninsula to evaluate a project that has been very important to American Forests’ history — the continuing journey to save the Kirtland’s warbler, an endeavor that began with our very first Global ReLeaf project in 1990. Back then, only 167 singing males existed, reflecting the dramatic loss of their very specific habitat: The warblers nest only in stands of jack pine between six and 22 years of age.
Our visit allowed us to view many different stages of a multi-year initiative that has planted more than 1.6 million jack pine seedlings since 1990 — those planted in the ‘90s and early 2000s that are now being utilized by the warblers, as well as budding seedlings planted in 2011 and 2012 that will serve as habitat in the future. As for the Kirtland’s warbler population numbers, our investment appears to be working: In 2011, 1,828 singing males were recorded — a massive comeback for the species. While this is certainly a major accomplishment, there is an urgent need to continue planting in areas like Hiawatha, as climate change has pushed the Kirtland’s warbler and jack pine further north. Therefore, the jack pine stands we visited in Hiawatha represented not only those that are currently vital to the warbler, but those that will need to be utilized to an even greater extent for future generations if we expect their species to continue thriving. Moving forward, we know at American Forests that projects like these have been a worthwhile investment not just for the past and present, but for the future as well.