2013-11-07 / Local & State

Habitat Incentive Offered Here

Open to Fulton County’s private landowners
By Mitchell Blake

Golden-winged Warbler Golden-winged Warbler To quote Aldo Leopold, “conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” This principle was recognized in the late 1940s and is best represented by the private landowner today, as no one else is as well positioned on the landscape to carry out this relationship. While conservation is controversial to some, to others, it is an opportunity – an opportunity to create, enhance, restore, or conserve a population or habitat not only for personal benefit, but the benefit of the natural community as well. Such a conservation opportunity exists today in Fulton County between landowners and the golden-winged warbler.

The golden-winged warbler is a migratory bird indigenous to the Appalachians and specific to early successional habitat. Goldenwinged warblers winter in South America and migrate north in the spring to breed and nest in the young forest of the Appalachian region, as well as other parts of north-central United States and lower Ontario province. Fulton County, characterized by plateaued mountaintops and heavily forested ridges, has a declining population of goldenwinged warblers. In fact, golden-winged warblers have been declining throughout Pennsylvania at an astonishing rate of 6.8 percent a year!

The reason behind the drastic decline not only in Fulton County but over the entire golden-winged warbler range is the hybridization with the blue-winged warbler and the loss of early successional habitat. The forests of Appalachia are getting older. A maturing landscape causes the forest to become devoid of the early stages of succession; habitat that is critical for many birds and mammals, specifically the golden-winged warbler. The absence of a dense forb, shrub and sapling understory coupled with overlapping ranges of a close relative, the blue-winged warbler, has made the golden-winged warbler a species of concern and young forest a critical habitat.

Early successional habitat is ephemeral by nature as forests are constantly in a state of change. Young forest will gradually mature into pole stage timber and ultimately a mature forest stand, changing the dynamic of the landscape and the wildlife species who use it. In order to establish a state of equilibrium on a forest track and maintain a diverse landscape, oftentimes young forest has to be continuously created. Early suc- cessional habitat can be created by natural disturbances such as windstorms or fires or can be created mechanically by silviculture methods, more specifically timber harvesting. Continuous creation of young forest stands over time on a track of forest fits well with the standard forest rotation prescribed on mixed hardwood and mixed oak/hickory forest in southcentral Pennsylvania and throughout the Appalachian region.

The benefits of having early successional habitat on your property are numerous and multifaceted. Besides the golden-wing warbler, many other wildlife species will benefit from the creation of young forest, including game species such as white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and wild turkey as well as more than 15 different songbird species. Landowners can enjoy a diversity of wildlife on their property with the implementation of early successional habitat and also enjoy a healthier, more profitable stand of timber in the years to come.

In order to encourage the creation of young forest habitat, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has implemented a habitat incentive program for private landowners called Working Lands for Wildlife (WLW). The WLW program provides incentive payments to private landowners for improving wildlife habitat and forest health through silviculture practices and other forest best management practices. Landowners working with NRCS will be creating critical habitat for golden-winged warblers and also excellent deer, wild turkey and ruffed grouse habitat for little or potentially no cost.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has partnered with the NRCS to assist landowners interested in creating young forest habitat. The NWTF has a great staff of wildlife biologists and foresters throughout the Appalachian region that can meet with the landowner to discuss where and how to create young forest habitat on their property. The program is available to private landowners in Fulton County as well as other portions of Pennsylvania and the Appalachian region. To qualify for the program, the property to be managed has to be roughly 1,000 feet above sea level and have more than 70 percent forested land surrounding the property; both qualifications are fairly easily met in Fulton County. Landowners are asked to create or restore a minimum of 10 acres of young forest habitat on their property.

Following a property visit, the biologist or forester will draft a wildlife management plan that includes prescribed forest stand management practices, a schedule detailing when the prescribed practices are to be implemented, and a payment schedule based on each management practice and the acreage the practice will be implemented on. There is no cost or obligation associated with the initial site visit or the wildlife management plan. This program is a great opportunity for landowners looking for technical and financial assistance to create better wildlife habitat on their property.

So, while you are in pursuit of your favorite game this fall or taking one last stroll on your woodlot, take notice of the landscape and what you see. Besides the autumn flora and fauna, you might just see a conservation opportunity.

If you are interested in this program or have any questions regarding program logistics or qualifications, please contact Mitchell Blake, NWTF project forester, National Wild Turkey Federation, 204 S. Stoner Ave., Shiremanstown, PA 17011. Phone: 814-977-0007 or e-mail: mblake@nwtf.net

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