Monday, March 12, 2012

New Program to Benefit Golden-winged Warblers

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
The Golden-winged Warbler is one of the fastest-declining North American warblers. Its range has been shifting northward, whether due to climate change, competition (and interbreeding) from Blue-winged Warblers, habitat loss, or some combination of factors. A new federal program called Working Lands for Wildlife is intended to benefit Golden-winged Warblers and several other declining species. More specifically, the initiative will address the availability of adequate habitat in the warbler's breeding range.
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 projects will presumably also benefit other animals that use the same habitat.