Major Grant Funds Wildlife Habitat Projects Across Northern Wisconsin

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a conservation grant-maker created by the U.S. Congress, recently awarded $400,000 over two years for a project characterized as “Creating Early Successional Forest that Maximizes Forest Productivity for Wildlife.” The grant – which has attracted matching commitments of $920,432 from conservation partners – will be used to make much-needed young forest in Minnesota and Wisconsin, improving forest health and tree diversity while helping wildlife.

Female golden-winged warbler on nest.

Funding will result in new breeding habitat for golden-winged warblers across northern Wisconsin.

Grant monies, administered by the American Bird Conservancy, will continue funding the position of Habitat Coordinator for the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, currently held by Callie Bertsch, based in Rhinelander, WI. It will also fund a new forester technician position with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as private consulting foresters across northern Wisconsin who work directly with landowners. Personnel will identify private and public lands where making young forest can deliver the greatest benefits to wildlife, including golden-winged warblers and American woodcock, two birds considered to be “guild species,” or representatives of the suite of different wild creatures that need young forest, also known as early successional habitat.

The goal is to create at least 1,000 additional acres of young forest in Minnesota and Wisconsin on sites near known territories of golden-winged warblers. Scientists studying these migratory birds believe that “new adults arriving in the spring are attracted to sites already occupied and seek to establish new territories in the area,” says Amber Roth, wildlife biologist and Vice-Chairperson of the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership. “It’s highly likely that new habitat created within five miles of existing golden-winged warbler territories will be quickly occupied by the warblers,” which will then use the fresh habitat for breeding and rearing young.

Biologist prepares mist net to trap warblers.

Biologists will monitor warblers on sites where habitat has been created using Best Management Practices to benefit golden-winged warblers and American woodcock.

The NFWF grant will also fund outreach efforts and workshops explaining the benefits of young forest to folks who are positioned to create this important habitat: private foresters, as well as natural resource professionals in state and federal agencies. Workshops will show how wildlife benefits when foresters use Best Management Practices, or BMPs, when planning and carrying out timber harvests and other land-management actions.

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

The NFWF funding will also help biologists carry out a monitoring program to measure the short-term response of golden-winged warblers and American woodcock to habitat created using the BMPs. Essentially, biologists will count the number of singing males of each species in a given area, which will provide an index to the quality of the habitat. Monitoring will take place on at least 40 young forest sites on public and private lands that were created through, or that meet the criteria of, “Best Management Practices for Golden-winged Warbler Habitats in the Great Lakes Region: A Guide for Land Management and Landowners,” a document previously produced by scientists (available as a download at the bottom of this article). Monitoring studies will also yield a list of other bird species found in association with golden-winged warblers and woodcock in areas where young forest and shrubland have been created or renewed.

Says Roth, “We’re very excited that NFWF has chosen the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, along with our colleagues in Minnesota, to receive and use these important funds. I feel that it’s a testament to the ongoing commitment of Wisconsinites to create homes and habitats where all wildlife can thrive.” Jeremy Holtz, Chairperson for the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, adds: “This grant supplies us with new resources to help landowners manage their forests in ways that will benefit wildlife whose populations have fallen in recent years as the amount of young forest has dwindled on the land.”

Dense aspen and birch following timber harvest.

Thick habitat growing up following timbering. Such cover offers abundant food and cover for wildlife.

Habitat created through the NFWF grant should result in a significant increase in the population of the golden-winged warbler, now under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Not only will golden-winged warblers and woodcock thrive in the new habitat, but other wildlife will also home in on the resulting food and cover, including deer, bear, moose, bobcats, Canada lynx, ruffed grouse, whip-poor-wills, a variety of songbirds, and many reptiles.

Key partners in the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership include private landowners, state and federal agencies, American Bird Conservancy, Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin County Forest Association, The Forestland Group, Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, and the Wildlife Management Institute. The American Bird Conservancy will administer the grant.

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