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Public-Private Partnership to Improve Wildlife Habitat in 16 States

The NWTF, the leading conservation organization dedicated to improving upland wildlife habitat, and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service are partnering on two initiatives to enhance critical ecosystems on private land across 16 states.

The golden-winged warbler and longleaf pine initiatives will improve habitat on private land for targeted species and countless other wildlife and plant species that flourish in the same habitat.

"These are landscape scale habitat initiatives that will have far reaching impacts," said James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., the NWTF's chief conservation officer. "The NWTF and our expert wildlife biologists are uniquely positioned to be the driving force behind these critical, on-the-ground habitat improvements. These initiatives will make significant impacts on golden-winged warblers, longleaf pines and the countless other species that depend on these shared habitats."

Daily, 6,000 acres of prime upland habitat are lost to development. Improving existing habitat will make a significant, long-term impact on upland wildlife and help counter these ongoing losses.

The golden-winged warbler songbird is listed as a Federal Species of Special Concern and has experienced dramatic declines, particularly throughout the greater Appalachian region, due to the loss of critical breeding habitat. Golden-winged warblers require patchy shrubland and forest edges, which also is critical for a wide range of species, including wild turkey, ruffed grouse and migratory birds.

Longleaf pine forests once covered an estimated 90 million acres across the Southeast; today only 3 percent remains. Longleaf forests are home to hundreds of wildlife species, including 29 species that are listed as threatened or endangered, and are important to the continuation of these species. This habitat is extremely important for wild turkeys.

Through these free public-private initiatives, the NWTF will work with 725 private landowners to help them improve habitat on their land by providing technical assistance and preparing habitat management plans. These efforts will provide expert guidance and help landowners participate in existing federal cost share programs to help fund these critical improvements. The NWTF also will conduct 38 wildlife habitat management field days to provide landowners with the tools to help wildlife on their lands.

"NRCS is proud to work with the NWTF to further the management of longleaf pine forests and habitat for the golden-winged warbler," said NRCS Chief Dave White. "This partnership provides another opportunity for farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to voluntarily protect this critical wildlife habitat."

The NWTF and its partners will be contributing $1.75 million to these initiatives to compliment NRCS's investment.

The golden-winged warbler initiative will include Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The initiative supporting longleaf pine will include the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

For information on participating in either initiative, contact Mark Hatfield at (803) 637-7507 or mhatfield@nwtf.net.

This release was produced by the National Wild Turkey Federation

Posted by Matt Cimitile: October 09, 2012

STEP Employee Joins the AMJV for the Summer

Credit: Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment

Virginia Tech wildlife science major Jarrett Wansley of Richmond, Va., was selected for a competitive STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) position with the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture this summer. Wansley, a senior, will be traveling up and down the East Coast where his responsibilities will range from performing vegetation sampling and bird-point counts to removing invasive plants at project sites.

“This federal program is a paid internship and provides opportunities for students to receive some great experience in a field that is their professional interest,” said Todd Fearer, coordinator for the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture.

Wansley will also work with Virginia Tech's Conservation Management Institute on select projects to enhance his experience and bolster his knowledge. “The STEP program is a great opportunity for minority students to get an early career start with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Scott Klopfer, CMI executive director. “Our hope is that this will not only go well for Jarrett, but that it will open up similar opportunities for Virginia Tech students in the future.”

The position could also lead Wansley to the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), which would give him support through graduate school and help him transition into a career with the government. “This is a tremendous opportunity to launch a career,” Klopfer said.

The original article was published in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment Newsletter.

Posted by Matt Cimitile: September 11, 2012

Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture help priority birds in Tennessee

Cerulean Warbler

Bird conservation in the Appalachian Mountains received a big boost recently with the completion of a significant conservation acquisition in east Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. The newly-acquired lands include over 120,000 acres of hardwood forest, rugged mountains, and pristine streams spread over three different areas. These forests link to an additional 66,000 acres of public lands, creating a total of 300 square miles of protected habitat for birds and wildlife.

The acquisition was arranged by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), a regional public-private partnership. “This is a huge victory for the AMJV partnership, migratory and resident birds in the area, and for the state of Tennessee,” said American Bird Conservancy’s Brian Smith, the AMJV Coordinator. “This area has been identified as one of the major centers for Cerulean Warblers, and a key area for Golden-winged Warblers in the southern Appalachians. Permanent habitat protection, along with a long-term opportunity to manage habitats and monitor populations for these species, is going to be vital to their conservation. I commend Governor Bredesen and the partners involved in this acquisition for their conservation vision.”

Partners in the land protection plan included the State of Tennessee, The Nature Conservancy, Lyme Timber Company, and Conservation Forestry LLC. The partners employed a combination of land purchases, working forest agreements, and conservation easements to protect these new properties. “This is an important project for wildlife conservation in the state of Tennessee, and we could never have pulled it off without the help of our partners, especially The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation”, said Greg Wathen, Chief of Wildlife for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Besides protecting birds and habitats, these lands will also stay open to the public for hunting, hiking, and fishing. Newly negotiated conservation easements will govern sustainable forestry practices, and continue to ensure economic benefits for surrounding communities as working forests. The AMJV plans to facilitate similar land acquisition projects throughout the region in the future.

This release was produced by the American Bird Conservancy.  

Posted by Matt Cimitile: July 28, 2012

Appalachian Reforestation Project Recognized

Kentucky Warbler, Barth Schorre

The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), a coalition of federal and local agencies, organizations, citizens, and companies dedicated to restoring forests on coal mined lands in the Eastern United States, was honored in the first Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award, which was announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on May 25, 2011.

The award is designed to promote efforts and partnerships in federal agencies that lead to better migratory bird conservation. This first award was presented to the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM), which coordinates the ARRI initiative with major contributions from a variety of groups including American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), the Cerulean Warbler Technical Group (CWTG), the Golden-Winged Warbler Working Group, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Trust for Wildlife, and many other conservation and environmental groups and associations.

Created by OSM in 2004, ARRI focuses on restoring native hardwood forests on areas where surface coal mining has occurred or is currently ongoing. These areas include the Appalachian breeding ranges of many species of neotropical migratory songbirds, notably the Cerulean Warbler, which depends on intact interior forests.

The Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and composed of other federal agencies with migratory bird responsibilities, selected the winner of the award. The award was presented to OSM by FWS Deputy Director Dan Ashe at the national celebration of International Migratory Bird Day in Washington, D.C.

Interior Secretary Salazar said, “This project is helping restore forest habitat that is vital for countless neotropical migratory birds and other wildlife while improving the quality of life for many communities in Appalachia. Moreover, this OSM initiative has fostered partnerships that will further the conservation of migratory birds for generations to come.” 

OSM Director Joseph Pizarchik said “ARRI’s work clearly demonstrates how government agencies working cooperatively can create effective environmental protection programs that benefit everyone. More importantly, programs like ARRI also develop the talents of hard-working volunteers, many of whom have chosen careers in the environmental field.”

ABC’s Brian Smith, who is the AMJV coordinator said: “The accomplishments of this coalition are remarkable – we have planted over 70 million trees on about 103,000 acres of mined land that have or might have been reclaimed to non-native grasslands that is poor-quality habitat for the native birds of the region. We will be seeing dividends from this effort for many generations to come.”

Smith also credited several key partners with key contributions, including: OSM’s Patrick Angel and Scott Eggerud as on-the-ground project developers/implementers, the ARRI Science Team for developing the necessary reforestation techniques, thousands of tree-planting volunteers, and Petra Wood (U.S. Geologic Survey Cooperative Research Unit at West Virginia University), Jeff Larkin (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), and Randy Dettmers (FWS), who are all members of the AMJV bird conservation partnership.

Following the implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), regulators focused on stabilizing the landforms created by mining in lieu of restoring diverse, native forests. Regulators wanted to solve problems such as severe erosion and sedimentation often seen on “pre-SMCRA” surface mines. As a result, excessive soil compaction became common on surface mines, and aggressive grasses and other non-native ground covers were generally planted. There are an estimated 750,000 – 1,000,000 acres that have been reclaimed to grasses and other undesirable vegetation (e.g., autumn olive), contributing to both forest fragmentation and the spread of non-native plants. The ARRI effort is targeting projects to remedy these issues, while also reducing erosion and sedimentation.

Large blocks of core forest are critical to several priority bird species in the Appalachians. For example, the Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler rely on the large blocks of deciduous forests for breeding in the Appalachians. The ARRI and AMJV partners are working together to strategically target efforts and resources at sites that would most benefit these species, but that also could benefit high-priority shrubland birds (e.g., Golden-winged Warbler) as the young seedlings begin to grow.

In addition to the reforestation efforts, the Presidential Award also recognized a key South American Partner, Fundación ProAves, for their work with ARRI and CWTG in a pen-pal program that links high school students from the coal fields of the Appalachian Mountains with students in the Andean coffee-growing region of Colombia, South America. Using the conservation of shared migratory birds, such as the Cerulean Warbler, as the uniting principal, the project adds an international education dimension to the on-the-ground work restoring minelands. The program is trying to not only link Cerulean Warbler breeding and wintering grounds, but trying to educate kids in both areas about the linkage of this bird to two global products—coffee and coal, both of which have significant overlap with, and impacts on, Cerulean range.

ARRI is beginning to change the way mineland reclamation will be conducted into the future, and is one of many effective on-the-ground bird conservation efforts underway in the eastern U.S.

This release was produced by the American Bird Conservancy.

Posted by Matt Cimitile: July 26, 2012

Initiative Will Benefit Ten-State Effort to Save Declining Songbird

Golden Winged Warbler, Christian Artuso

The new “Working Lands For Wildlife” (WLW) project announced yesterday by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture will provide substantial benefits to birds and other wildlife, but will be especially beneficial to the imperiled Golden-winged Warbler.

The WLW project will provide a huge boost for a Golden-winged Warbler conservation effort in the eastern U.S. involving dozens of organizations across ten states. The effort is being facilitated by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), and American Bird Conservancy (ABC).  Partners include federal and state agencies, universities and not-for-profit conservation organizations. The Golden-winged Warbler effort is being carried out in the species’ Appalachian breeding range of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

“The Golden-winged Warbler is one of the most seriously threatened, non-federally listed species in eastern North America. Everyone familiar with its plight should be excited about the WLW project and the opportunity it provides to better engage private landowners in the conservation effort. If we are going to have this bird around for future generations, we’re going to need both public and private collaboration,” said Brian Smith, AMJV Coordinator and a wildlife biologist with ABC.

"The additional funding from the WLW project will provide for increased on-the-ground habitat restoration and conservation for the Golden-winged Warbler. These efforts will be complemented by technical expertise that AMJV partners will provide through monitoring the species’ response to habitat work, and the vital educational component designed to improve understanding of the importance of young forests and scrubby, open habitat to this bird,” Smith said.

In addition to benefits to the Golden-winged Warbler, the WLW will also boost conservation efforts for the Greater Sage-grouse, Lesser Prairie-chicken, and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher in the western and central U.S., as well as three non-bird species currently listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act: the New England cottontail rabbit, bog turtle, and gopher tortoise.

This WLW project follows a sage-grouse initiative in the West that began nearly two years ago. The initiative is being delivered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through conservation programs in the Farm Bill, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, state fish and wildlife agencies, and other partners.

The Appalachian Mountains and the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region are the population strongholds for Golden-winged Warbler; however the species has undergone significant population declines throughout the greater Appalachian region due to loss, degradation, and modification of its preferred young forest habitat. Hybridization with the closely-related Blue-winged Warbler, nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds, and deforestation on its wintering grounds in Central and South America are also factors in this species’ decline.

ABC has made the Golden-winged Warbler a major focus of its conservation work, and is coordinating conservation activities in both the US and in wintering ground sites in Central and South America.

ABC is working to boost Golden-winged populations in a number of ways, including participation in the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative  - a coalition of federal and local agencies, citizens, and other groups dedicated to restoring forests on reclaimed mine sites in the eastern United States. These restored forests can provide much-needed habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler and other early-successional species such as the American Woodcock. Also, ABC works closely with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group to develop and deliver on-the-ground projects throughout the species’ range.

ABC is also working with partners in Latin America to restore essential wintering habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler through cooperative efforts with local communities, coffee growers, and ranchers that promote bird-friendly practices such as silvipasture (the practice of combining forestry and grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way) and shade-grown coffee. ABC is also planting thousands of trees to restore native wintering habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler and other neotropical migrants.

On June 2, 2011, FWS announced that listing the Golden-winged Warbler under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted, and the Service is now initiating a full review of the species. In addition, many state fish and wildlife agencies within the Appalachian region have listed this bird as a species in greatest need of conservation within their states’ boundaries.

Before widespread European settlement of the Appalachian region, Golden-winged Warblers relied on young forest or open woodlands created by natural fires, natural disasters, or beavers. During the early and mid-part of the Twentieth Century, much of the region was cleared through timber harvesting, and later, through strip mining for coal. Second growth vegetation and revegetation of these areas resulted in habitats that were conducive to species such as the Golden-winged Warbler. Over time, these areas have matured or become dominated by species that do not provide the habitat structure that warblers need.

The WLW initiative will focus on creating and maintaining the types of habitat necessary to sustain breeding populations of warblers in and around their current breeding areas. This will include efforts designed to expand the existing Appalachian range of the species and increase the amount of available habitat throughout the Appalachians. Two particular challenges are that many key areas are located within a matrix of lands with mixed ownership and there are potential conflicts with regard to commercial timber harvests.

The AMJV is one of 18 habitat Joint Venture partnerships in the United States. The AMJV is comprised of state and federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and industries who work together to ensure the long-term sustainability of native bird populations that breed in the Appalachian Mountains.

This release was produced by the American Bird Conservancy.

Posted by Matt Cimitile: July 26, 2012

Green Jobs Plan to Restore Forests to Benefit Cerulean Warblers, Other Bird

Cerulean Warbler, Barth Schorre

A broad coalition of conservation groups is asking Congress and the Obama Administration to create over 2,000 jobs and improve the environment by funding an innovative program to reforest former mining lands in Appalachia. Over one million acres in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains that were once forested now support mostly non-native shrubs and grasses following mining activities. When these mine lands were reclaimed, the soils were heavily compacted to prevent erosion, and seeded with grasses rather than native trees. The compaction was so severe that it has prevented trees from subsequently taking root naturally.

“Small and large pilot projects to develop the needed techniques to plant trees in highly compacted soils have been completed throughout Appalachian coal states, demonstrating both the job creation potential and environmental benefits these projects engender,” said Brian Smith, American Bird Conservancy’s Appalachian Joint Venture Coordinator. “This is a shovel-ready project that will provide immediate benefits to rural communities.”

The Green Forest Works for Appalachia program would result in the creation of 2,000 jobs by replanting 125 million trees on 175,000 acres of old mining lands over a five-year period. The compacted sites would be “ripped” using special machinery to loosen the soils. Tree seedlings would then be planted in the ripped soils, which provide deep cracks and crevices for water to infiltrate and roots to spread.

As these forests develop, they will provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife, which will in turn create jobs from recreation and tourism as birdwatchers, hunters, hikers, and fishers begin to use these areas. Interior forest species such as the declining Cerulean Warbler will particularly benefit. In addition, these forests will store substantially more carbon than the grasslands they will replace.

The proposal was developed by the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative Science Team, a coalition of Appalachian residents including scientists, foresters, and conservationists. The proposal has the backing of a broad coalition of bird conservation organizations including American Bird Conservancy, environmental organizations, forest-product companies, and volunteer groups working to help communities afflicted with high-unemployment. These groups are asking that the Green Forest Works proposal be included in the President’s 2011 budget request, and that Congress appropriate $15 million in 2011.

The Green Forest Works proposal and its potential t create green jobs and stimulate local economies has generated considerable press interest in the Appalachian region, which has been particularly hard hit by the recession. The Executive Summary of the Green Forest Works proposal is available at http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/green_jobs_proposal_final_10_18_09.pdf. 

This release was produced by the American Bird Conservancy.

Posted by Matt Cimitile: July 25, 2012

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