Farm Bill Funds Wildlife Habitat, Healthy Forests in Great Lakes States

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced in January 2015 that a robust grant program will pay for young forest habitat creation in the Great Lakes States starting this year and running through 2019. The project is part of a nationwide Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funded through the 2014 Farm Bill.

Golden-winged warbler male

Golden-winged warbler male captured for banding by biologists. Habitat for the species will get a boost from new funding.

This particular RCPP, “Improving Forest Health for Wildlife Resources,” will fund numerous on-the-ground habitat projects plus pay for planning future young forest creation efforts in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Around 64,000 acres of new habitat will be created in the region, spurred by $5.5 million awarded by NRCS – funding that has attracted commitments for an additional $6.2 million from conservation partners that include state and federal agencies, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and county forests.

The program, administered by the American Bird Conservancy, will emphasize creating habitat to benefit the golden-winged warbler, which has suffered one of the steepest population drops of any songbird species, with a decline of more than 3 percent annually over the last 40 years across its range. The RCPP aims to create new breeding habitat on a total of 64,000 acres of private and public lands in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, resulting in a population increase of approximately 16,000 warblers in four years. Funding will provide technical support to private landowners whose properties lie within designated golden-winged warbler focal areas, helping them plan and carry out conservation management actions on their lands. Prescribed practices may include aspen management, timber-stand improvement, and shrubland restoration.

Prime young forest created through management activities.

Prime young forest habitat created by management activities will offer food and cover to dozens of kinds of wildlife from songbirds to bears.

“This is a great time to be a private landowner who wants to manage forested land,” says biologist Amber Roth with the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, the delivery mechanism for funding habitat projects in the Badger State. Jeremy Holtz, Chairperson with the Partnership, explains: “The Partnership now has unprecedented resources to draw from in providing advice and helping to pay for habitat work. We plan to create and renew thousands of acres of young forest across northern Wisconsin in places that will have the greatest positive impact on wildlife populations that need our help.” Adds Roth, “The work will promote forest health and diversity while making sure our woodlands include both young and old forests and a diverse mix of tree species. Additionally, many local forest-based businesses and communities will be supported by this new work.”

See additional resources at the bottom of this article to download Best Management Practices for golden-winged warblers and American woodcock.

Other wildlife that will benefit from habitat made for golden-winged warblers include white-tailed deer, black bear, moose, Canada lynx, ruffed grouse, American woodcock, whip-poor-will, and a range of songbirds from alder flycatchers to black-billed cuckoos.

Groups participating in the project include: American Bird Conservancy; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge; Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Woodcock Minnesota; Beltrami County, MN; The Conservation Fund; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Forest Service; Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society; Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association; Wisconsin County Forests Association; Wildlife Management Institute; The Forestland Group; Pheasants Forever; National Wild Turkey Federation; Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Louisiana-Pacific Corporation; Michigan Tech University; Indiana University of Pennsylvania Research Institute; Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Wisconsin State Implementation Committee; and the following Wisconsin County Forests: Bayfield County Forest, Douglas County Forest, Florence County Forest, Lincoln County Forest, Marathon County Forest, Price County Forest, and Taylor County Forest.

Landowners who want to help wildlife by making much-needed young forest can contact Callie Bertsch, WYFP Habitat Coordinator, 2187 N. Stevens St., Suite A, Rhinelander WI 54501; telephone (715) 362-5941 x 107, cbertsch@abcbirds.org.