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New Grants Awarded to Protect Lands and Birds

Golden-winged Warbler; by Laura Erickson.


The Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative has awarded its first grants to support bird conservation among the land trust community. The four organizations receiving funds plan to protect critical habitats, such as oak forests in Oregon and estuaries in Maine, as well as help declining bird species, such as Golden-winged Warblers in Vermont and Lewis’s Woodpeckers in Colorado. The Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative was formed in 2013 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Land Trust Alliance.

“By providing much needed funding to land trusts, together, we can help build capacity to succeed with projects that create partnerships and preserve birds and habitat on private lands,” says Sara Barker, leader of the Cornell Lab’s Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative.

The Cornell Lab received nearly 80 proposals for the grants, which were established specifically to bring attention to strategic conservation for birds. Loss of habitat is one of the most severe threats that  birds face and land trusts contribute greatly to protecting and managing important habitats.

“When it comes to conserving private lands, land trusts are leaders and play an increasingly important role in conserving birds and biodiversity in North America,” says Amanda Rodewald, the director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab.

Below are details for each of the funded land trust proposals:

The Central Colorado Conservancy will use funds to start a program, using citizen-science data from eBird.org, to monitor Lewis's Woodpecker. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Lewis's Woodpecker population declined by about 82 percent between 1966 and 2015. “We’ll use the observation data on the woodpecker to identify high priority habitat to target for conservation,” says the Conservancy’s Andrew Mackie. “This old-growth riparian habitat used by Lewis's Woodpecker is also critical for other species, such as small mammals, migrating songbirds, and fish.”

Funds awarded to the Columbia Land Trust will be used to develop the East Cascades Oaks Partnership to both raise awareness of the highly threatened Oregon white oak habitat and engage stakeholders and the public in discussions about the science and management of the unique ecosystem. White oak ecosystems support a wide variety of birds and wildlife, especially Neotropical migratory songbirds. “A strategic, collaborative conservation effort will help preserve the connectivity, diversity, quality, and extent of white oak habitat,” says Columbia Land Trust’s Lindsay Cornelius. “We also want to help to reform damaging management practices.”

Kennebec Estuary Land Trust has earmarked grant funds to expand and strengthen a bird monitoring program on its preserves in the region. “We want to create a volunteer bird monitoring program, plus increase and promote the use of the eBird online observation program in the Kennebec Estuary region,” says Becky Kolak of the land trust. Overall, trust leaders say the funds will enable them to make bird conservation a more prominent objective in their land acquisition and management decisions.

The Golden-winged Warbler and other forest birds will benefit from grant money awarded to Audubon Vermont to create the Golden Chain Partnership among three Champlain Valley land trusts, the Vermont Land Trust, and Audubon Vermont’s Champlain Valley Bird Initiative. “The partnership will help build capacity and recognition for the vital conservation work of land trusts in this region,” says Audubon Vermont’s Mark LaBarr. The partnership will identify land parcels best suited to support young forest bird species and prioritize these for land trust protection, guide management of previously protected properties and host landowner workshops, and create an outreach strategy to generate continued funding.

Another round of grants from the Cornell Lab through the Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative will be available next year, with proposals due in spring 2018. To learn more about how to apply for a grant, visit the initiative website at birdtrust.org.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 01, 2017

Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act



U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act recently. The bipartisan bill is designed to reduce bird mortality by calling for federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features. As many as a billion birds a year die in collisions with buildings in North America alone.

“By pursuing cost-neutral, responsible, and realistic solutions we can play an important role in preserving the intrinsic, cultural, and ecological value birds bring to our society,” Rep. Quigley said in a statement. “This bill will put an emphasis on constructing buildings with bird-safe materials and design features, which in turn will help eradicate unnecessary bird deaths caused by collisions with glass.”

Many bird-friendly design techniques—such as installing screens or grilles on windows and minimizing the use of glass on lower floors–are already used in some federal buildings to control heat and light or security. The proposed bill would require the General Services Administration to apply similar measures, where practicable, to all new and existing federal buildings.

The legislation would help address one of the greatest human-caused threats to birds, said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Director of ABC's Glass Collisions Program. “Although this legislation is limited to federal buildings, it's a very good start that could lead to more widespread applications of bird-friendly designs and use of bird-smart glass solutions,” she said.

A 2014 study found that White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Ovenbird, and Song Sparrow are among the species most commonly killed by collisions with buildings. The study also reported that several species of national conservation concern are especially vulnerable to collisions. Affected species include Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Painted Bunting as well as Common Yellowthroat (shown).

Article by the American Bird Conservancy.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 01, 2017

Agencies Partner for Trouble Game Birds



A state-agency partnership is creating more habitat for two troubled game birds and other wildlife species that rely on young forest.

Since 2011, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have teamed to restore thousands of acres of idle, difficult-to-manage habitat for ruffed grouse and woodcock on state forests.

The partnership, spearheaded by DCNR’s Emily Just, an ecologist with the Bureau of Forestry, and Lisa Williams, a Game Commission game birds biologist, has been helping state forests and parks personnel write plans to remedy what ails now marginal habitats that once supported substantial populations of the ol’ ruff and timberdoodles. Both depend on young forests, which have been declining in Pennsylvania for some time. Grouse covet young upland forest – preferably with some adjacent stands of more mature trees; woodcock need young forest and shrubby thickets in soggy lowlands that offers their favorite food, worms.

“Pennsylvania is currently at a 50-year-low for this critical habitat,” Williams explained. “The decline of young forest has been dramatic.”

Pennsylvania lost about 30 percent of its young forest between 1980 and 2005, and declines continue, Williams said. Just 5 percent of Pennsylvania forests are young – up to 19 years old, according to 2014 forest inventory data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

Reverting farm fields and bottomland, the loss of young forestland to tree maturation and land-use changes have hurt these popular native game birds. Sinking with their populations are somewhat obscure songbirds, like golden-winged and prairie warblers, the yellow-breasted chat and brown thrasher, as well as the more recognizable whip-poor-wills, box turtles and snowshoe hares.

Although grouse mortality also is tied to West Nile virus, habitat is the key to keeping the state bird abundant in Penn’s Woods. It’s a conclusion resource managers back.

“Waiting until they’re almost gone and require hefty emergency care to save is not an option,” Williams emphasized.

So Williams and Just came up with an approach that evolved into an interagency habitat prescription service that leans heavily on collaboration and cooperation. They head into the hills to work with DCNR foresters on projects for grouse and woodcock throughout the state. They figure their teamwork has led to about 1,000 acres of new grouse and woodcock habitat being created annually.

Just said their now established campaign started from outreach to forestry staff on opportunities to begin improving poor-quality stands, carefully working in forest buffers, or targeting hard-to-manage sites for grouse and woodcock through on-site visits. This thinking-outside-the-box approach supplements the positive effects that forest-management activities have on wildlife.

“The first year, a couple of districts were interested, and then it just took off,” Just recalled. “We started with foresters on ‘orphaned’ sites – primarily woodcock habitat. Moist-soil areas where they couldn’t do traditional work.”

To get the ball rolling, Williams and Just walk sites with foresters, talk to them about their objectives and their equipment limitations.

Williams and Just have a reputation among DCNR’s foresters for requesting as many targeted objectives for birds as they can – strewn trunks and treetops left on site for grouse, open clearings with shrubby thickets for woodcock, control of invasive plants and targeted promotion of beneficial trees and shrubs. Depending on the site, they also might appeal for softer, shrubbier woodland edges, tree islands and aspen or alder regeneration.

“Management of natural resources is complex, so there is much discussion about silvicultural prescription essentials and the needs of the birds,” Just explained. “We work hard to combine both needs as much as we can.”

“It’s really the way conservation ought to work,” stressed Williams. “The synergy in the relationships we’re building creates a lot of excitement and it’s really paying off for the birds.”

Williams is quick to point out that Just makes it all work. She keeps the necessary paperwork going and looks for funding, which take a lot of pressure off participating foresters.

“The guys know that she is going to be with the project for the long haul,” Williams explained. “We don’t just show up, say ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ and walk away.”

Game Commission regional staff also help shorthanded or equipment-light forestry districts carryout their projects.

“Everyone is playing to their strengths, so projects don’t get held up anywhere,” Williams emphasized. “Now we have as many requests as we have time to handle.”

Aspen is promoted where possible because it is an important tree to ruffed grouse, providing the bird food – buds, catkins, leaves – all year long, Williams said. Even the way aspen’s leaves allow filtered light to pass down through the canopy promotes ground-level vegetation beneficial to grouse. Its value is unquestionable.

Aspen’s distribution is now threatened by landowner neglect – it needs to be managed actively – and by Pennsylvania’s maturing forests. A colonizing species, aspen filled in on the barren landscape after deforestation had leveled Penn’s Woods early in the 20th century and farmland reverted to forest. Grouse responded and Pennsylvania had fantastic upland hunting. Today, aspen makes up only a small portion of the state’s forestland.

But for all aspen does for grouse, it’s only part of the solution.

“In Pennsylvania, young forests are going to save grouse, not aspen,” reinforced Williams.

The work ahead won’t be easy, because there are many other considerations that must be weighed when managing hardwood stands for grouse, such as long-term forestry objectives, deer impacts on seedlings, habitat needs of other plants and animals, invasive plants and landscape connectivity.

The planning is complicated and getting the work done at a large enough scale to benefit wildlife takes many partners. Just points out that the Ruffed Grouse Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Wildlife, and the Wildlife Management Institute all have been strong supporters of this ongoing partnership.

“While Partners for Wildlife and the Wildlife Management Institute assist with their use of on-the-ground machinery and expertise, the Ruffed Grouse Society and National Wildlife Turkey Federation bring an ingredient that is in very short supply, volunteers to help get the work done,” Just said. “Both organizations also have donated money and helped on site with several of these projects.”

Many hands are needed, because the effort to right the deficiencies in the Commonwealth’s grouse and woodcock habitat is no small undertaking. Williams estimates Pennsylvania is about 800,000 acres short of the young forest habitat it had in the 1980s.

The lack of young forest and its wildlife consequences are hard not to notice.

In 2013, the American Bird Conservancy identified early-successional forests as one of the Top 10 most-threatened bird habitats in America, Williams said.

“The loss of young forest means trouble for the species that need it,” Williams said. “In addition to grouse and woodcock, dozens of other species are declining. Change is needed to ensure they can have healthy populations in the future.”

Continued partnering among management agencies and conservation organizations will help. But Just stresses that more consistent funding is needed. .

“State forests have tremendous potential for ruffed grouse and woodcocks since we already sustainably manage forests to balance age class, and especially now that we are figuring out how to work in the more difficult sites,” Just said. “We also do environmental reviews of each project to ensure we’re not impacting other species. It’s a thoroughly proven process.”

The woodcock work has been especially encouraging, Williams said.

“Spring surveys indicate we’re supporting eight times the number of woodcocks in managed sites than we see in unmanaged sites, where woodcock numbers remain stalled. The birds are showing us the work is making a real difference!”

The Game Commission and DCNR have been producing young forest through their commercial timber operations for decades. They each cut thousands of acres annually. But with a deficit of 800,000 acres, every new acre of early successional habitat matters for grouse and woodcock. That’s where the collaboration of Williams and Just with DCNR foresters is paying off. It’s an indispensable partnership.

Article by the Pennsylvania Game Commission
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 01, 2017

Community Manages a Private Landscape for Healthier, More Resilient Forest

Rolling Ridge has 1,400 acres of forests, dotted with streams, ponds and waterfalls. Photo courtesy of Linda DeGraf.


Rolling Ridge is many things. A spiritual sanctuary. A haven for hikers, mountain bikers, birdwatchers and campers. A learning ground for kids and adults to connect with nature via community programs and naturalist classes. And a residence for the five families that call the 1,400-acre property just south of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia home.

The privately-owned landscape consisting of aged-mixed hardwoods dotted with streams and ponds, sits amidst prime territory – buttressed by the iconic Appalachian Trail on one side and the majestic Shenandoah River on the other.

“It is just beautiful,” said Linda Degraf, one of Rolling Ridge’s residents. “And to my knowledge, this is one of the largest contiguous pieces of privately-owned property along the Appalachian Trail.”

Degraf and her husband Scot are one of the families of the Rolling Ridge community. After raising three sons while living and working in the Washington, D.C. area, they moved out here for a simpler life closer to nature and be part of a community of kindred spirits.

Ten years later, she now chairs Rolling Ridge Foundation Board that helps organize community programs as well as manage for the health of the landscape. “The people living and working here want to be good stewards of the land for the people, wildlife and future generations,” said Degraf.

Depending on age and condition of forest, being a good steward may mean preserving the forest and keeping it as is. It could also mean actively managing – using practices such as tree thinning or planting native shrubs – to create a healthier and more diverse age-class of trees and shrubs for a diversity of wildlife. The mixed-hardwood stands that largely make up the forest at Rolling Ridge are a similar age class and are under duress from a large deer population, spread of invasive species and overcrowded trees.

To address forest health, the Foundation Board worked with the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture offsite link image     (AMJV) partnership and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the diversity of the forest. The property is part of an AMJV project  offsite link image    that aims to improve 12,500 acres of forest habitat and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine land for cerulean warblers – an imperiled neotropical migratory species – and other wildlife that use similar habitat in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland.

The project is funded through NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and includes a variety of partners, including AMJV, NRCS, American Bird Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“The project at Rolling Ridge embodies the conservation approach envisioned by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture and its many partners,” said Kyle Aldinger, who coordinates the partnership in West Virginia.

The project provided recommendations to improve forest health and resiliency for a diversity of wildlife as well as technical and financial resources through NRCS to implement them on the property. Partners helped the community identify and map a number of stands to thin as a way to open up the canopy and make prime habitat suited for cerulean warblers. It is also working towards restoring native understory to benefit a host of other game and non-game species.

“Our hope is any additional income we derive from commercially harvesting the trees we thin out can sustain our stewardship work moving forward,” said Degraf.

If you’d like to learn more about this project and how to get involved, visit AMJV’s webpage. Meet some of our other “Habitat Heroes” by visiting NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife webpage.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: May 17, 2017

Life After Coal: Appalachian Wildlife Center

Future site of Appalachian Wildlife Center in Bell County, KY.


The people of Appalachia have been forced to imagine life after coal. Wildlife biologist David Ledford found that it isn't all bad.

While working on wildlife restoration, Ledford discovered stunning views and a paradise for bird watchers at former coal mining sites in Bell County, Kentucky. He and his business partner, Frank Allen, came up with the idea to use the reclaimed lands as an educational wildlife center to teach students about coal, nature, and wildlife.

"There's some value here from a wildlife habitat perspective. It's a value that a lot of people don't know about and it doesn't get recognized," Ledford said.

The partners bought what was supposed to be an industrial park that never attracted any industry and then leased another 12,000 acres from Asher Land and Mineral Company. By 2019, they plan to open the Appalachian Wildlife Center on the property where the first two mountain-top removal mines in Eastern Kentucky are located.

Ledford has a vision that includes a museum of natural and regional history, theater, and restaurant on site.

"We're going to have a 15 to a 20 mile loop road, like Cade's Cove. You're going to come here and see deer, bears, and a bunch of birds. But also elk, hundreds of elk, in just a few years, picnic areas, walking trails, and interpretive signs," he said.

In November 2016, Governor Matt Bevin and Congressman Hal Rogers announced a $12.5 million grant from U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. The Appalachian Wildlife Foundation has raised $16.4 million of it's $31 million dollar price tag.

"It is estimated within 5,6,7 years there will be there will be half a million people, 600,000 people year that will be able to come," said Governor Bevin (R-Kentucky), "I think if we take full advantage that's just beginning to scratch the surface."

The economic impact studies show the influx of visitors could bring in as many as 2,000 jobs in five years. It's welcome news for an area desperate for jobs.

"Even when times were good in the coal industry, there was still a lot of distress in this area. There was still a lot of poor people. We need to diversify the economy in this region," Ledford said.

Diversification has not been easy. Ledford said the landscape and loose, rocky terrain that comes with reclaimed mines makes it difficult to recruit industry.

Ledford hopes this will be the eco-tourism boost they need to bring new life in an old mine.

"We're going to use the strengths of what is here. We're going to use the land, use the wildlife," he said, "We don't have to come in here and build a two billion dollar factory. We're going to capitalize on what is here."

Article by Mary Scott, WBIR.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: May 09, 2017

Caring for the Land and Serving People through Agroforestry

Children play at the demonstration food forest and connect with nature. (Photo credit: Catherine Bukowski, Virginia Tech)


People become interested in agroforestry for a wide range of reasons including improving water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat, reducing soil erosion, and increasing crop and livestock production.

Agroforestry, the intentional combination of trees with crops or livestock, is designed to support landowners’ conservation and production goals. Through U.S. Forest Service, state agency, and other technical assistance providers who work with landowners, the National Agroforestry Center works with partners to care for the land and serve people.

Agroforestry can take a lot of different forms. In Pennsylvania, private landowner Denny Colwell, is growing ginseng in the woods to steward his land, using an agroforestry practice called forest farming. Working with Penn State, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, and other technical assistance providers, he has gotten involved in the Forest Grown Verification Program, which certifies that his ginseng is produced and harvested in a sustainable and legal manner.

The Basalt Food Park was established in Basalt, Colorado to improve community well-being and build the local food network. This food forest, a system that uses perennial plants combined with annuals in a multi-story cropping design, is also intended educate children and others in the community about forest ecosystems and edible trees and shrubs.

Milton Nappier, a landowner in Nelson County, Virginia, was interested in agroforestry as a way to better steward the land where he grew up. Working with partners from Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech extension, and others, Nappier established a silvopasture system to manage his woods. Silvopasture carefully combines trees, forage, and livestock production. By improving the quality of the land, adding infrastructure for farming, and generating opportunities for more valuable future timber harvests, he is creating a more productive and workable asset for his children.

All of these examples show how agroforestry can serve people and care for the land. In a recent issue of National Agroforestry Center’s newsletter, Inside Agroforestry, we explored the question of Why Agroforestry? by investigating the motivations landowners, researchers, educators, and others that lead them towards agroforestry.

Blog by U.S. Forest Service.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: May 01, 2017

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