SOMERSET, N.J. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new five-year conservation strategy to support private landowners managing for healthier forests in the Appalachian Mountains, part of an ongoing effort to help the golden-winged warbler rebound, and avoid the need for regulation of the species. This strategy serves as a game plan for how USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and its conservation partners can best meet their goal of helping landowners in New Jersey and six other states adopt bird-friendly practices on more than 15,000 acres of young forests and shrublands over the next five years.
The golden-winged warbler has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species in the last 45 years, largely attributed to the decline of young forests that the migratory bird needs for nesting.
NRCS selected the golden-winged warbler in 2012 as a priority species of Working Lands for Wildlife, the agency’s premier, science-based partnership for wildlife conservation. The golden-winged warbler, with a black-and white facial pattern and touches of yellow on its wings and head, breeds in the deciduous forests of the Great Lakes and Appalachians and then spends its winters in Latin America.
Appalachian forests have widely suffered from “high grade” or “diameter limit” harvests that remove only the most valuable trees. NRCS forest conservation practices renew the health, economic and wildlife values of deciduous forests. With about 70 percent of the region under private ownership, management decisions of landowners are important to the golden-winged warbler and many game species including turkey and grouse.
“We have a tremendous opportunity in New Jersey to make a difference both for landowners and for wildlife by helping to rebuild the health of our forests,” said Carrie Lindig, State Conservationist for New Jersey. “Our effort is to diversify the age classes of trees in forests, creating patches of forests of different ages, and for the golden-winged warbler, we’re focusing on those younger forests within landscapes dominated by mature forests.”
Through Farm Bill conservation programs, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners voluntarily plan and implement forestry practices that restore and enhance young forest habitat.
Historically, natural disturbances like wildfires created patches of young forests. Nowadays, people largely control these natural processes to protect life and property. Through conservation practices, landowners are able to mimic those natural disturbances.
In New Jersey, NRCS efforts will focus on re-establishing young forests on private lands and help promote active forest management by offsetting landowner expenses.
Research shows the conservation practices are benefiting the golden-winged warbler. The largest assessment of its kind is now under way, and the first three years of data show high nesting success in forests managed using NRCS practices.
WLFW and other partnership efforts to promote habitat restoration on private and public lands are working. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined protections under the Endangered Species Act were not needed for the New England cottontail and greater sage-grouse, both WLFW target species, largely because of collaborative efforts to conserve habitat on public and private lands.
To learn more about technical and financial assistance opportunities, forest landowners should contact their local USDA service center or visit the Conservation Choices for Wildlife — Golden-winged Warbler webpage for more information on available practices.