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Successful Implementation of GWWA Habitat on Public and Private Lands

Emily Bellush, private lands GWWA –WLFW coordinator in PA, meeting with an interested landowner; photo by Judy Bellush.
The Pennsylvania Golden-winged Warbler Habitat Initiative continued its exciting and productive efforts to create quality young forest habitat for breeding Golden-winged Warblers and associated wildlife throughout Pennsylvania.  It was going to be tough to top our successes in 2012, a year in which we surpassed our annual breeding habitat goals for Pennsylvania by preparing or implementing greater than 15,000 acres of Golden-winged Warbler habitat across public and private lands. Nonetheless, we committed to continued success by expanding landowner outreach efforts and building upon the many valuable lessons learned in previous years.

Collectively, our partnership reached out to over 4,300 private forest owners in 2013.  This outreach and our increased on-the –ground capacity resulted in 4,053 acres of Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat enrolled in the NRCS-Working Lands For Wildlife (WLFW) program, more than twice the acreage we enrolled in 2012!  Moreover, our strong partnership allowed Pennsylvania to account for more than 81% of all Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat acres enrolled across the nine Appalachian states eligible to participate in the program. In the first two years of NRCS-WLFW, we enrolled a total of 5,705 acres belonging to 122 private landowners.

Implementation success also continued on public lands.  While we recognize the important role of private lands in the conservation of the Golden-winged Warbler and other young forest-dwelling species, we also are aware of the exceptional opportunities for management on expansive areas of public land that exist within Pennsylvania’s Golden-winged Warbler Focal Areas.  An Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Research Institute (IUP-Ri) public lands Golden-winged Warbler forester prepared 602 acres of potential habitat across two State Game Lands (SGLs).  Additionally, Pennsylvania Game Commission created 1,780 acres of potential Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat across 16 SGL and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry created 5,617 acres of potential habitat across 12 forest districts.  Collectively, these efforts resulted in the creation of approximately 8000 acres of GWWA breeding habitat on Pennsylvania public lands this year.

Central to our partnership’s ability to implement Golden-winged Warbler habitat guidelines on public and private forests is a core group of staff at IUP-RI.  IUP-RI staff solely focuses on Golden-winged Warbler habitat conservation and are funded through external awards from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-State Wildlife Grants, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and American Bird Conservancy (ABC).  These grant funds are only made possible with matching contributions from several outstanding partners.  Grant-funded staff includes two full-time private lands foresters, one full-time private lands conservation planner, and one full-time public lands forester.   Partner offices house these positions (NRCS, PA Game Commission, and USFWS) in areas with a demonstrated need for increased on-the-ground capacity. 

This year we also welcomed two new member organizations to our partnership when the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever committed field staff to assist with private lands Golden-winged Warbler conservation planning and implementation.  The significant contribution by these two partner organizations, traditionally not associated with songbirds, provides evidence of the well-known recognition that high quality Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat also provides valuable habitat for many other game and non-game species.

Since the start of the Pennsylvania Golden-winged Warbler Habitat Initiative in 2011, our partnership’s effort resulted in the creation and enrollment of 27,971 acres of potential Golden-winged warbler breeding habitat on private (7,645 acres) and public (20,326 acres) lands.  These results indicate we are making significant progress toward increasing the availability of breeding habitat necessary to reverse the decline of Golden-winged Warblers in Pennsylvania.  Our multi-agency team continues to be the key to our success.  These partners include the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC); USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources-Bureau of Forestry (DCNR-BOF), USFWS-Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program; American Bird Conservancy (ABC); National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF); Pheasants Forever (PF); National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF); Wildlife Management Institute (WMI); Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC); The Nature Conservancy (TNC); and Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Research Institute (IUP-RI).