Forest Restoration Leads to Major Win for the Kirtland’s Warbler

One of America’s most unique songbirds, the Kirtland’s warbler, is making headlines for all the right reasons. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on October 8. 2019 that it will remove this bird from the federal list of endangered species in November 2019. The warbler will be the first songbird ever delisted.

This win is due, in large part, to the work American Forests has done over the last 30 years to restore young jack pine forests in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada—the required habitat for the Kirkland’s warbler. We’ve done so in collaboration with the State of Michigan, U.S. Forest Service and others.

Since 1990 we have supported the planting of 6.8 million jack pine trees in the area, specifically for the Kirtland’s warbler habitat. With the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, we are helping to plant an additional 1.8 million jack pines there in 2020.

While over 90% of the breeding population is located in Michigan, climate change will stress existing habitat. American Forests and Simcoe County, Ontario have been implementing Canada’s first Kirtland’s warbler habitat restoration project to support potential northward shifts in the bird’s range due to climate change.

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Kirtland’s warbler has been listed as an endangered species since 1967 due in part to the loss of young jack pine forests in the bird’s range. This bird has specific nesting preferences as it nests on the forest floor of jack pine forests where the trees are between 5 and 20 years old. Natural, low-intensity fires historically created patches of this type of forest. These wildfires burned the bigger, older trees and cleared the understory to create space for jack pine seeds to thrive. But, the pressure to suppress these large fires have interrupted this cycle. No fire has meant no young trees and no young Kirtland’s warblers.

Managing forests by cutting older jack pine stands and then replanting young jack pine across the breeding range of the warbler mimic the effects of fire. Proceeds from the Michigan State-sponsored timber sales are also pooled into a restoration fund and used to support the overall conservation effort. Overall, this establishes a new breeding habitat, generates wood products and supports a strong local forest economy.

This win aligns with American Forests’ commitment to restoring forests to provide habitat for America’s wildlife–#Forests4Wildlife.

Follow along as we continue to share examples of our American ReLeaf projects throughout the month. Find out how your support can make a difference in our conservation efforts!