Partner Employee is Perfect Match for Five-Year Forest Enhancement Project

The Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project is taking flight in West Virginia thanks to funding awarded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has partnered with the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and the West Virginia Division
of Forestry (DOF) on the project

There are two components to the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project – to enhance 4,000 acres of forest habitat and restore 75 acres of mineland on private lands over the next five years. The larger is a forest management component covering parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  A smaller component will be reforesting surface mines on private lands.

“The cerulean warbler is more abundant in West Virginia with 36 percent of the population compared to any other state,” said Kyle Aldinger, project coordinator. “Thirty-four of the mountain state’s 55 counties are within the warbler project focal area, an area identified by researchers as having the highest likelihood of project success, but landowners in all counties may be eligible.”

In January 2015, the AMJV was selected for funding under RCPP, a new, flexible program using partnerships between conservation focused organizations to achieve a common goal on regional or watershed scale projects. “We knew a partner position would allow us to best leverage our assets as a team to make the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project a success for private landowners in West Virginia,” said Louis Aspey, NRCS State Conservationist. “As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the RCPP was a new program to all of us. We wanted to make certain that we got it right and had a dedicated employee to oversee the project.”

Aldinger has nestled comfortably into his position as the project coordinator in West Virginia. It’s easy to say that Aldinger is a natural fit for the position. He’s attended college in two of the project’s five states, earning his undergraduate degree from California University of Pennsylvania in Wildlife Biology. He then went on to attend West Virginia University to earn his master’s degree in the same field and is nearly finished with his doctorate in forest resources science.

“I was first introduced to the cerulean warbler while studying fisheries and wildlife biology in college,” Aldinger said. “I was part of the cerulean warbler management study that developed guidelines that apply to the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project. I continued on with my education, which focused on the golden-winged warbler and over time have developed a special kinship with both species.”

Cerulean warblers breed in large tracts of forest with mature trees, especially oaks and hickories. When forests age, you start to see old trees succumbing to insects and weather and ice, that results in openings in the canopy, which let in sunlight and promote younger trees and understory vegetation to grow. The technique of the warbler project is to mimic that older forest stage. Less desirable tree species may be removed to create openings and promote the more desirable species. West Virginia offers tremendous opportunity to do this type of project.

The cerulean warbler uses the edges of canopy openings for singing, nesting, and foraging. These openings provide good acoustics for the male to broadcast his song. They may be hard to spot, but when present, cerulean warblers can be heard clearly. Listen for their loud call of “zee zee zee zizizizi eeet” and look up, said Aldinger.

“Participation in sustainable forestry can improve habitat for a variety of game and non-game species while improving forest health,” Aldinger added. “You can accomplish a number of objectives through this program. Because such a high percentage of the warbler’s habitat is on private land, this is a mechanism to do effective conservation alongside landowners.”

Since September 2015, Aldinger has developed tools for project administration such as screening questions, while evaluating landowner applications.  His time is spent building relationships with partners, local NRCS staff, foresters—all the partners involved in the state.  He also works with private landowners knowing coordination is critical for the success of the program.

“The whole project involves a lot of outreach and that is where my position comes in,” Aldinger said.  “One of my main responsibilities is outreach to landowners because the program is so new, we are still in the stage of building the landowner base.  We’ve been reaching out through a number of avenues and so far 17 applications have been submitted.”

The cerulean warbler was chosen as the poster bird for the project as one of the highest priority AMJV species and approximately 75 percent of their habitat is on privately-owned land.  The project spans across parts of five states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Article by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in West Virginia.